The Defense Department‘s inspector general risks losing its “independence” amid a push in the U.S. military to promote diversity and stamp out White supremacy and other extremist ideologies, the watchdog said in a new report, warning that Congress has established a flawed system with potentially serious unintended consequences.
In the study made public Monday, the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) took aim at a law enacted earlier this year that requires the defense secretary to appoint an official in the OIG’s office to review “diversity and inclusion” policies in the Defense Department and to monitor “supremacist, extremist, and criminal gang activity” in the U.S. armed forces. The mandate is part of a much broader effort inside the Pentagon under President Biden to eradicate extremists from the ranks and to work toward a more diverse military.
But the OIG said its independence may be at stake. By giving the defense secretary direct authority to appoint officials inside the watchdog’s office and to essentially lay out their job duties there, the anti-extremism push is infringing on the core principle that inspectors general are free from any outside interference, the OIG warned.
The OIG singled out Section 554 in 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which gives current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his successors the power to appoint a deputy inspector general with the specific mission of overseeing inclusion, diversity, and anti-extremism policies.
That appointee will be “required to simultaneously serve two leaders with distinct and often divergent interests,” the OIG warned. “… In practical effect, the deputy inspector general is a DoD employee detailed to duties in the DoD OIG, which undermines the independence of the DoD OIG from the DoD and the secretary of defense in fact and appearance.”
The new law “establishes a structure that creates challenges concerning lines of authority and communication in the execution of the duties,” the report continues. “If complainants do not believe their complaints will go to an independent, objective organization, they might not be willing to bring issues of extremist, supremacist, or criminal gang activity by members of the armed forces to the attention of their supervisors or the DoD IG.”
The IG’s office said that it is working with lawmakers and the Pentagon’s Office of Legislative Affairs on a permanent solution to the conflict and to ensure the long-term independence of officials assigned to the OIG.
The warning is the latest roadblock the Defense Department has encountered in its anti-extremism efforts. Critics have already warned that the initiatives could inadvertently target conservatives, Catholics and others whose beliefs could be considered “extreme” by some on the political left.
Pentagon officials have vehemently denied the criticisms. They stress that the effort is aimed at identifying those who participate in potentially violent groups such as extremist militias or White supremacist organizations, and especially those who may be willing to take part in anti-government attacks such as the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at email@example.com.
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