The Pentagon — at the urging of members of Congress — has signed a contract to have an outside organization conduct its biennial workplace and gender relations survey. But the decision has raised questions about whether the change will affect the Defense Department’s ability to analyze trends.
Pentagon officials confirmed this week that it has hired RAND Corp. to conduct the anonymous survey, which tracks sexual harassment and sexual assault in the ranks. A Defense Department source told Stars and Stripes the move was made after prompting from members of Congress, who believed it best for an outside organization to carry out the survey, rather than the DOD’s own data collection center.
But Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has frequently criticized the military’s handling of sexual assault claims and is pushing to overhaul the military justice system to better handle those crimes, is concerned that having a different entity collect the data will impede the ability of the DOD and outside groups to track progress in preventing and responding to sex crimes.
“Changes to methodology, definitions or survey questions will preclude comparison to previous years, hiding any progress the armed forces may have made,” she wrote in a letter to Jessica Wright, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Gillibrand said she is particularly concerned about any possible changes to the definition of “unwanted sexual contact,” she wrote.
Based on the last such survey, in fiscal 2012, the DOD estimated 26,000 had experienced some type of unwanted sexual contact or sexual assault. The number of reported sexual assaults was much lower.
Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson, a DOD spokeswoman, said Wright had received the letter and will respond. However, she said, RAND’s survey methodology “will allow the department to accurately compare data among all previous surveys so that we can seamlessly assess progress the department is making in preventing and responding to the crime of sexual assault.”
The next survey will be administered in late summer and early fall, Wilkinson said. Initial results will be included in a report to President Obama in December, and the full results will be included in the DOD’s annual sexual assault prevention and response report, she said.