Lawmakers say Coast Guard lacks transparency in response to documents request

November 8, 2018 GMT

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and two of his colleagues in Congress, say the Coast Guard has not fully complied with their request for documents relating to allegations of bullying and harassment at the Coast Guard Academy.

Courtney and Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, first requested the documents, including the results of any investigations into allegations of bullying and harassment, and the terms of any settlements reached, over the summer. They gave the Coast Guard a month to produce the documents.

Materials pertaining to at least one of the allegations have not been provided to the lawmakers, and the documents the Coast Guard has provided “contain extensive and inappropriate redactions,” they said in a Nov. 2 letter to the head of the Coast Guard, Adm. Karl Schultz.

The Coast Guard received the letter and is “working to address their questions and concerns,” spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said by email Wednesday.

“The Coast Guard and the Coast Guard Academy are committed to maintaining a culture of respect and take all claims of discrimination and harassment seriously,” McBride said. “We will continue to cooperate with the representatives to ensure the Coast Guard Academy has effective processes in place to respond to any allegations of discrimination.”

On July 13 — the deadline set by Courtney, Cummins and Thompson to produce the information — the Coast Guard responded with “approximately 70 heavily redacted pages of documents,” they said. The Coast Guard said in its response to them that, under the Freedom of Information Act, it had to withhold “predecisional and deliberative records,” as well as those that “would constitute invasion of personal privacy.”

The Coast Guard followed up on Aug. 17 with new materials. The response contained fewer redactions but they still were extensive, the lawmakers said.

After reviewing the documents, and discussions with Coast Guard staff, “we lack a complete picture of how allegations of harassment and bullying at the Coast Guard Academy during the past three years have been handled,” the lawmakers said to Schultz.

Courtney said by phone Thursday that he and his colleagues want to review all the documents before making a trip to the academy with Schultz to discuss the issues. The trip, originally scheduled for the end of this month, has been postponed.

“When you’re talking about releasing documents like this, there are privacy issues that have to be fleshed out,” Courtney said. The two sides are working together to get to the “level” of information “so that we understand the issue fully,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General also is looking into how the academy handles allegations of discrimination, and whether it took appropriate action in past discrimination cases.

Academy spokesman David Santos said the academy is “fully cooperating” with the inquiry. “It is important for us to examine our policies and practices, and where necessary, take action to improve them,” he said earlier this month.