Defense bill would survey troops on if they've faced 'racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist' activity

Defense bill would survey troops on if they've faced 'racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist' activity
© Greg Nash

Questions about whether troops have faced racism, anti-Semitism and supremacism on duty would be added to Pentagon workplace surveys under a provision in the House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill.

The provision is included in the military personnel subcommittee’s portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) released Monday. The bill would also require the Pentagon to develop a way to track and report supremacist, extremist and criminal gang activity in the armed forces.

The language comes at a time when the military is grappling with racial issues in the wake of nationwide protests over police violence and racial injustice.

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But a committee aide told reporters on a background call that the two provisions stem from a hearing the panel held in February on white supremacism in the military.

The military criminal investigation organizations track supremacist, extremist and gang activity when it is part of criminal probe, but at the hearing, it became clear such activity is not tracked when it’s kicked down to an administrative action or otherwise dealt with by commanders, the aide said.

The language on workplace surveys was in last year’s House-passed version of the NDAA but was changed during negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate. The version that was signed into law required the Pentagon to survey whether troops have “experienced or witnessed extremist activity in the workplace” or reported such activity.

This year’s military personnel subcommittee portion of the bill would add back into the question whether troops have experienced or reported "racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist" activity.

The committee aide said the panel decided to revive the language after the February hearing, when there was “a bipartisan push ... to make sure that got back in there.”

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The aide said it was too early to discuss whether the language will survive negotiations with the Senate this year but said it is “helpful” that Rep. Trent KellyJohn (Trent) Trent KellyDefense bill would survey troops on if they've faced 'racist, anti-Semitic or supremacist' activity House GOP lawmakers urge Senate to confirm Vought Top Armed Services Republican unveils proposals on military families, acquisition reform MORE (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, expressed support for putting the language back in the bill.

In addition to those two provisions, the bill would require each military branch to provide an annual report summarizing the gender and race of each officer who was recommended for promotion to the rank of major or lieutenant commander and above.

The military personnel subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its portion of the bill Tuesday afternoon.