Laura DeSimone, the executive director of the Missile Defense Agency, signs a board Nov. 29, 2023, at Schriever Space Force Base, Colo.

Laura DeSimone, the executive director of the Missile Defense Agency, signs a board Nov. 29, 2023, at Schriever Space Force Base, Colo. (Tiana Williams/U.S. Space Force)

The Missile Defense Agency’s top civilian engaged in affairs with at least two subordinates while working for the Defense Department and helped one get promoted, according to a report by the department inspector general.

Laura M. DeSimone, MDA’s executive director, “misused her public office for the private gain” of a subordinate who was promoted while engaged in a yearslong personal and sexual relationship with DeSimone, the report concluded. Investigators also found DeSimone misused government communications devices to conduct the affair, and she used “poor judgment” in engaging in an affair years earlier with another subordinate.

The Pentagon IG launched the investigation in 2021 after anonymous tips to the Defense Department hotline accused DeSimone of an inappropriate relationship and of sexually harassing a different subordinate. The inspector general did not corroborate sexual harassment claims, according to the report published Tuesday.

“The investigation in this matter underscores the importance of individuals coming forward when they see what they believe to be evidence of wrongdoing,” Robert Storch, the department’s inspector general, said in a statement. “It’s a great example of the crucial role whistleblowers serve in helping us detect and investigate misconduct by senior DOD officials.”

DeSimone denied any wrongdoing. She admitted to investigators to having consensual sexual relationships with both subordinates, the first from about 2005 to about 2007, and the second from about 2018 through 2022. She told investigators that the subordinates initiated the physical relationships in both cases, and she was uninvolved in any decisions that impacted their careers.

DeSimone has worked for the Defense Department since 1990, spending more than two decades working for the Navy before joining Missile Defense Agency in 2011, according to the Pentagon. She was named the agency’s acting executive director in November 2019 and officially made its top civilian in October 2020.

It was not immediately clear Friday what punishment, if any, DeSimone could face from the investigation. Air Force Lt. Gen. Heath Collins, MDA’s director since December, will make the decision, according to the Pentagon.

“Missile Defense Agency leadership is reviewing the findings of the IG report and will then decide what actions, if any, are appropriate to take,” said Navy Cmdr. Timothy Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman. He declined further comment on the issue.

DeSimone told investigators that the more recent relationship was a private matter that had no impact on either individual’s job. She said she believed no one was aware of their affair, however witnesses told investigators that they were aware of the pair’s relationship and believed DeSimone was “hooking up” the subordinate with a promotion.

One witness described the situation as “awkward” and said “everyone just looked away.” Despite DeSimone’s denial of involvement in the promotion decisions, investigators found email and instant message records indicated DeSimone was “the force driving” the decisions.

The probe also found DeSimone and the subordinate misused their government phones — sending more than 2,000 text messages and spending more than 100 hours on the phone between August 2018 and October 2020. More than 60% of the text messages and some 36% of the calls were outside of typical office hours, including on holidays and weekends, the IG found.

Only after the inspector general initiated the probe in early 2021 did DeSimone reveal the relationship to then-MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill because she assumed it would be “brought forward” through the investigation, she told investigators.

Among the investigation findings, it recommended the Defense Department establish a policy for self-reporting any intimate relationships with others in the office.

Investigators found no evidence DeSimone sexually harassed her subordinate in the earlier affair. She admitted to the consensual sexual relationship with the subordinate while they worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Virginia.

However, investigators wrote “DeSimone exercised poor judgment by engaging in a sexual relationship with one of her subordinates.”

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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