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Navy should probe sexual-harassment claims against auditor, lawmaker says

Chairwoman of the House Armed Services' Military Personnel Subcommittee U.S. Rep Jackie Speier, D-Calif., attends a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 30, 2019.

CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES

By TONY CAPACCIO | Bloomberg | Published: July 24, 2019

The Navy's top auditor was promoted to the job despite a series of sexual harassment allegations against him by multiple women, Rep. Jackie Speier said in a letter to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and another senior official.

Navy Auditor General Ronnie J. Booth has been accused of a "pattern of harassment, retaliation and hostility in the workplace" that has been "documented at length in multiple sources" dating to 2007, Speier, a California Democrat who heads a defense subcommittee, wrote in a July 16 letter seen by Bloomberg.

According to the letter, the auditor allegedly demonstrated a "pattern of behavior, in which Mr. Booth offers to mentor female subordinates, suggests he meet them outside of work hours, arranges travel with the women and subsequently makes inappropriate advances on them," Speier wrote.

Booth, a 32-year veteran of Navy auditing assignments who now directs about 340 employees and oversees a $47 million annual operating budget, referred questions about the accusations to Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a spokeswoman for Spencer.

In a statement, Higgins said Spencer "takes allegations of sexual harassment seriously. If the Office of the Secretary of the Navy receives an allegation, the staff refers the information to the appropriate body of jurisdiction. Due to privacy concerns and to preserve the integrity of the process, we will not comment further."

In addition, Lt. Ben Anderson, a Navy spokesman, said Booth "is currently unavailable, and has no comment on this issue."

The Navy's senior leaders named Booth to the auditor job in February despite "highly credible allegations of repeated, rampant sexual harassment and other troubling behaviors," Speier wrote.

In addition to a 12-year-old allegation by one woman, Speier wrote that she is "aware of five other women who have had similar experiences since then, at least three of whom reported through formal channels."

The Pentagon's inspector general has a copy of Speier's letter and is reviewing whether to open an inquiry but no decision has been made, according to a person with knowledge of the issue.

Speier wrote to Spencer and Thomas Modly, who was temporarily performing the duties of Navy secretary while Spencer was acting Pentagon chief, that their "apparent failure to act on the concerns" and their decision "to promote Mr. Booth raise troubling questions about your commitment to preventing and responding to sexual harassment, your ability to judge the character of those you select for leadership positions and your suitability for government service."

Booth has received many awards throughout his auditing career, including the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award and the Navy's Superior Civilian Service Award, according to an official biography.

Spencer issued a strongly worded memo to the Navy workforce on May 1 outlining an aggressive anti-harassment policy for both sexual and non-sexual situations that mandated "every leader must ensure that every reported incident is investigated immediately and thoroughly with corrective action taken as appropriate."

The complaints against Booth don't allege sexual assault. But Speier said she was told that Booth retaliated against women who refused his advances. Retaliation allegedly took the form of ostracizing female workers, moving them to other jobs and "spurred some to leave the organization," she wrote.

Speier -- who heads a military personnel subcommittee with jurisdiction over sexual assault and harassment reporting, prevention and policies -- referred in her letter to the findings of an October "Climate Survey" of the Naval Audit Service when Booth was an assistant auditor general. She said "as many as 20 respondents commented on Mr. Booth's alleged harassment and other inappropriate behavior," adding that those comments "merit further investigation."
 

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