Website solicits comments on repeal, promises not to tell
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany--The Defense Department has created an online site seeking anonymous opinions from servicemembers and their families about the possible repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Except the opinions aren’t necessarily anonymous. Many family members can’t access the website. And it’s not clear exactly what kind of feedback officials are seeking.
The recently created site — www.defense.gov/dadt — is accessible only by using a DOD-issued Common Access Card, which most family members don’t have. And use of the CAC card means that any comments are potentially traceable back to their source.
The website urges users to be “open and honest” with their responses. But they also are reminded “don’t use your name or the names of others ... The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Law’ is still in effect.”
The 17-year-old law barring homosexuals from openly serving in the military is under review by Congress and the Pentagon following calls for its repeal by President Barack Obama. Pentagon officials have said they intend to solicit opinions from across the military about the potential effects of a repeal. Last month, Army Secretary John McHugh said a Defense Department working group studying the issue was looking for ways to allow troops to speak candidly without fear of separation.
The website offers a blank “comment box” but no guidelines regarding what kinds of opinions are being sought.
A note on the site from working group leaders Jeh Johnson, DOD chief legal counsel, and Gen. Carter Ham, U.S. Army Europe commander, does say that “the Secretary of Defense directed us to reach out to you to identify issues that we should consider” in developing an implementation plan for repeal of DADT.
DOD spokeswoman Cynthia Smith said the department is seeking feedback on how a repeal would affect things such as retention, readiness and unit cohesion.
“It’s not whether or not we should repeal,” she said.
Family members are included because the department recognizes that they’re an integral part of a servicemember’s career, Smith said. Participants are only asked to identify their gender; service component; rank; and whether they are a military or family member.
But requiring a CAC to reach the site raises several issues. Family members who aren’t working as DOD civilians or contractors don’t have one. Smith said they can input feedback with help from their military spouse.
“We want candid, frank input from servicemembers and their families,” Smith said.
But civilians and contractors who have a CAC can comment even though they are not the intended audience. And there’s no limit to how many times one person can comment, potentially skewing the results.
“It’s a trust issue,” Smith said. “We have nothing that limits them to one comment. We welcome all types of comments.”
All comments will be reviewed by a third-party contractor, who will take out any names or other potential identifiers provided in the online comment box before submitting them to the DOD working group reviewing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Smith said.
Still, a user agreement at the site warns that the working group “cannot guarantee the confidentiality of the information you provide.” Using a CAC to get to the site creates a digital log-in record. But Smith said DOD won’t be “going back through the system to identify anyone who has given us this feedback.”
A message on the site indicates that a “confidential mechanism” for offering feedback is still under construction.
The online comment box is just one tool the Defense Department is using to review the effects of repealing the policy. The working group is conducting information forums at bases worldwide to obtain input about issues associated with the repeal of the law, Smith said.
And the DOD is still working on a method that would allow gay servicemembers to communicate their thoughts, ideas and experiences in a confidential manner, she said.
Ham told The Washington Post last month that his group would probably employ a third-party pollster to reach out to gay military members and survey them under a guarantee of confidentiality.
“These groups have some pretty masterful ways of reaching out to what they call hidden groups in larger communities,” he said, according to the Post.
In March, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ordered Ham and Johnson to conduct a comprehensive review of the issues associated with a repeal of the 1994 law. In the process, the review should “systematically engage the force” by seeking “participation of a range of age, rank and warfare communities in this study, including families,” Gates directed.
The study is to be completed by Dec. 1.