WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a past chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, today said that the findings of a report by Protect Our Defenders (POD), a national organization dedicated to ending rape, sexual assault, misogyny, sexual harassment, and retribution in the military, has broken new ground for congressional oversight on equal treatment. The POD report found the Air Force (USAF) had suppressed data showing “substantial” and “persistent” racial disparities in its military justice system that appear to be system-wide in the armed forces.
In response to a previous investigation in 2017, the USAF said it was taking a series of steps to identify and address the causes of the disparities. However, the POD report found that the USAF’s working group met only briefly and issued only superficial recommendations. The U.S. District Court in Connecticut referred to the USAF’s investigation as a “mystery” and questioned whether it conducted any “real governmental decision-making process.” The court also accused the USAF of trying to change its story.
POD’s findings are particularly important because the USAF has the highest racial disparities of any military service branch for courts-martial and nonjudicial punishments. However, Norton said that the Department of Defense itself is implicated and says she will work with the Committee on Oversight and Reform, on which she serves, and other committees of jurisdiction for annual oversight of racial disparities in the armed forces.
“As the nation commemorated Memorial Day this month,” said Norton, “there was timely justice in the release of the Protect Our Defenders report documenting the suppression of racial disparities by the Air Force. Although backed up by official findings of a Government Accountability Office report requested by Congress, it took federal court litigation by POD to get release of the Air Force working group’s findings and recommendations.
“The POD report was so convincing that this year Congress, for the first time, passed legislation requiring both reform and transparency in addressing racial disparities in the military. As a former chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I am astonished that racial disparities in federal agencies, long subject to corrective legal action by the EEOC and other federal agencies, as well as by federal courts, are only now caving under similar scrutiny in the military system. We are indebted to POD for breaking open a new area of oversight for racial justice.
“As a senior member of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, the main investigative committee of the House of Representatives, I intend to ask our committee and other committees of jurisdiction to follow the recommendation for annual oversight of the military to identify corrective action needed.”