WASHINGTON – In the midst of an intensifying scandal over a rising number of military sexual assaults, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is moving to keep hundreds of Defense Department civilians who work in programs to combat the problem on the job this summer while most other DOD civilians face furloughs.
“The full-time people working these programs and implementing policies will not be furloughed,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith. “This will ensure responsive victim care and ensure all the programs recently directed by Secretary Hagel are implemented swiftly and efficiently. “
Hagel last week ordered the military to review and recertify all 25,000 personnel working in programs to prevent sexual assault and help victims. The announcement followed a Pentagon announcement last week that a sexual assault response coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas, was being investigated for pandering and sexual assault. And earlier this month, an Air Force officer who oversaw that service’s sexual assault response branch was charged with sexual battery, accused of approaching a women in an Arlington, Va., parking lot and grabbing her breasts and buttocks.
Among other measures, Hagel also ordered a DOD-wide search of work areas for “degrading, offensive materials” and told the Pentagon’s acting general counsel to evaluate a program to provide military attorneys to advocate for victims.
Hagel announced in early May that DOD’s most recent survey of military sexual assault showed an estimated 26,000 incidences in fiscal 2012, up dramatically from 19,000 military sexual assaults in 2011.
The number of civilian workers who will be exempt is still unclear, officials said. The service branches, which have their own sexual assault response and prevention programs, are tallying up the number of workers but the final count is expected be well over 500. Most of the workers in the programs are military members, volunteers or non-appropriated funds workers, none of whom are eligible for furloughs.
Defense officials announced earlier this month that 90 percent or more of DOD’s 750,000 U.S. civilian workers would be furloughed for 11 days starting July 8 at the rate of two days per pay period through the end of September.
DOD is expected to lose $37 billion of its 2013 budget because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, but will gain back $1.8 billion through the the furloughs, officials said.