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House committee heads demand Coast Guard Academy explain handling of harassment allegations
Two House committee chairmen on Monday requested that two Coast Guard officials appear for interviews regarding the handling of complaints of racially motivated harassment and retaliation at the Coast Guard Academy.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) sent a letter to Coast Guard Adm. Karl Schultz asking that Coast Guard Academy Dean Kurt Colella and Rear Adm. Anthony Vogt, commander of the 13th Coast Guard District, appear for transcribed interviews no later than Sept. 18.
The chairmen hope to gain more insight into "the handling of complaints of harassment and retaliation at the Coast Guard Academy as well as the Academy's responses to disparities identified in the Equity Scorecard review," according to the letter.
"We are deeply troubled by what appear to be repeated efforts by the Coast Guard to impede our investigation of the handling" of such allegations, Cummings and Thompson wrote.
They added that they have been asking the Coast Guard for information on the allegations for more than a year.
Cummings and Thompson along with Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) began an investigation into the Coast Guard Academy after the release of the school's Equity Scorecard, a study by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California that tracks graduation rates by race, ethnicity and gender.
The scorecard on the academy found that "Black/African American cadets have been consistently less likely to graduate than the all-cadet average" and receive a "disproportionately high share of disciplinary sanctions."
The lawmakers on June 13, 2018, requested all documents regarding allegations of harassment or bullying made by any student or faculty member at the academy in the past three years as well as "the results of any investigations conducted to examine these allegations, and the terms of any settlements reached."
The Coast Guard a month later produced about 70 pages of heavily redacted documents but said it was obligated to withhold "predecisional and deliberative records, as well as those records that would constitute invasion of personal privacy if released," citing the Freedom of Information Act.
The two sides went back and forth for another year, during which Thompson and Cummings claim that the Coast Guard missed deadlines and continued to provide only heavily redacted documents in response to further requests, according to the letter.
The lawmakers and their staff finally met with Colella last week. Staff from Courtney's office and other Coast Guard officials also attended the meeting.
At that Wednesday sit-down, however, "all of the Coast Guard personnel who were present at the meeting were directed to refuse to answer any questions regarding any past events at the Academy involving either faculty or cadets," under orders from Schultz, the letter states.
"When asked if the officials present were prepared to answer questions about the past, a Coast Guard official stated, 'We are not.' Another official stated, 'We're happy to talk about the process as it exists today. We're not willing to go backwards,'" according to the letter.
If Colella and Vogt do not appear for transcribed interviews by the September deadline, "we will be forced to consider alternative means to obtain compliance," the lawmakers warn.