Defense & National Security: Air Force report reveals gender, racial disparities

Defense & National Security: Air Force report reveals gender, racial disparities
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A new Air Force report has revealed how women and non-white Air Force and Space Force members are less likely to receive promotions, educational and leadership opportunities and more likely to be punished more severely or frequently for infractions. 

We’ll share what’s in the report, steps begun to address it and future moves from the Air Force to fix the problem.

For The Hill, we’re Ellen Mitchell and Rebecca Kheel. Write to us with tips: emitchell@thehill.com and rkheel@thehill.com

Let’s get to it.

Women, minorities treated differently in Air Force 

Women and non-white Air Force and Space Force members face different treatment than their white, male counterparts in receiving promotions, educational and leadership opportunities and disciplinary action, the service’s independent watchdog found. 

The review “revealed racial, ethnic, and gender disparities, particularly in accessions, retention, opportunities, and to a relatively lesser extent, in disciplinary actions. Analysis revealed these disparities impact racial-ethnic groups and female members to different degrees and in different ways,” according to the document, which was released Thursday.

Other findings: The report — the second such scrutiny by the Air Force Inspector General’s (IG) Office into minority airmen and Guardians’ disciplinary, retention and promotion data — also found that one out of every three women in the services reported experiencing sexual harassment while in the military.  

“1 out of every 3 female military respondents and 1 out of every 4 female civilian respondents stated they experienced sexual harassment during their Air Force career,” the document states.

The most serious identified type of harassment for women “was sexual jokes that make them feel uncomfortable, followed by repeated attempts to establish an unwanted sexual or romantic relationship and sexual comments about their appearance or body,” according to the report.

Previously: The Air Force IG previously “confirmed racial disparity exists for Black service members” in a 150-page report released in December. But the report did not address why racial disparity exists in these areas or other minority groups and called for additional reviews and plans to fix the issue.

The effort was sparked after the May 2020 death of George Floyd while in police custody, which set off civil unrest, nationwide protests and an Air Force review to address racial, ethnic and other disparities and their impact on the forces.

A narrow focus: The December report was intentionally, narrowly focused on African American disparity “because we wanted to produce something in a timely fashion,” according to Air Force IG Lt. Gen. Sami Said.

Thursday’s report expanded on the topic to include any possible disparities experienced by females, as well as Asian American, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic and Latino individuals. 

A new look: More than 100,000 service members and civilians responded to a survey on the topic, while 122 in-person sessions at bases across the country yielded a combined 17,000 pages of comments.

The IG team also reexamined 21 past studies and reports involving race, ethnicity and gender in the military. 

More work to do: Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told reporters that while the Air Force has made some progress in fixing the issue, “we still have a lot of work to do.”

Kendall said the report “points out very clearly, I think very convincingly, there are a lot of disparities within the Air Force.”

Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal

Three of the nation's top defense officials will testify this month about the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Senate Armed Services Committee announced Thursday.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie will testify at a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 28, the panel said in a news release.

A first: The hearing is the first scheduled public testimony from the trio since the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, the collapse of an Afghan government and forces the U.S. military spent two decades bolstering, and the ensuing chaos as the United States raced to evacuate as many people as possible before President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE’s Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline.

The concerns: “Although we have completed the withdrawal of American military personnel and over 100,000 civilians from Afghanistan, I remain deeply concerned about the events that accompanied our withdrawal and the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake MORE (D-R.I.) said in a statement Thursday. “It is the duty of Congress—and the Senate Armed Services Committee in particular—to hold hearings to learn lessons from the situation in Afghanistan and ensure accountability at the highest levels.”

Additional hearings and briefings: Prior to the open hearing, Gen. Scott Miller, who was the last commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, will brief the committee behind closed doors Wednesday, the panel said.

Additionally, the committee will hold a hearing on Sept. 30 where yet-to-be-named outside experts will review U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, according to the release.

The Armed Services Committee’s announcement comes after the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees announced Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report Biden's post-Afghanistan focus on China is mostly positive so far MORE will testify at hearings next week.

Read the rest here.

Psaki defends move to oust Trump appointees 

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiReporters lodge complaint with White House over Biden-Johnson meeting access White House faces increased cries from allies on Haitian migrants Harris 'deeply troubled' by treatment of Haitian migrants MORE on Thursday defended the Biden administration’s decision to oust a handful of Trump appointees from military academy advisory boards and also took a shot at some of those stripped of their positions who "supported an insurrection." 

“We’re confident in our legal abilities here,” Psaki said during an appearance on CNN Thursday morning, offering confidence the administration's steps would withstand legal challenge.

“No one is looking to have a battle here. The president of the United States, just as every president and every administration and Cabinet members, have the right to appoint people they deem as qualified, as aligned with the administration’s ... priorities, to these boards and to any position in the federal government,” she said.

A distinction?: When pressed by CNN host John Berman on why there isn’t a distinction being made between political operatives and other appointees, like former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, Psaki reiterated that President Biden is entitled to appoint individuals to these positions who align with his values and the qualifications he deems necessary.

Insurrection a factor: “That’s what is taking place here; it’s not personal. I will say that there are some people, of course, on these boards that have supported or stood by silently while their former boss supported an insurrection,” Psaki said. “That’s not really OK with us either, but you’re right, there is a span of individuals on these boards, it’s really not more complicated than the president, his Cabinet and team wanted to be able to appoint a fresh layer of people.”

Read the full story here.

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That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s defense and national security pages for the latest coverage. We’ll see you Friday.