911 – What’s your emergency?


During my last operational assignment flying F-16s in Germany, I had the distinct “pleasure” of serving as the base’s Inspector General. The Inspector General, or IG as it’s commonly referred to, is the non-criminal investigative arm of the military. The IG’s mandate spans across anything from leadership to cultural issues to fraud waste and abuse to acts of reprisal. The last one in that list being one of the more important ones. There’s actually US law that outlines what constitutes a “reprisal” in our government. It’s 10 USC 1034 if you are curious, but the elements of reprisal are this:


1. A person makes a “protected communication” raising concerns of wrongdoing to the chain of command, inspector general, and/or Congress and then, 


2. That person is punished for making that communication.


In theory, reprisal law protects a member of the government when they do what they feel is right by speaking out, but is under the risk of retribution. In practice, however, what plays out is usually something for a well short thereof.  You see, there are several problems with reprisal law and our investigative system. The first difficulty is that an IG has to prove that a person was punished because they made a protected communication.  This is almost impossible. Let’s take a simple example:  Sergeant Johnson sees a wrongdoing and reports it to the IG.  His boss, hearing about this, does not submit him for an award later that year; an award that will significantly help his chances in getting promoted to the next rank.  Has his boss committed reprisal by punishing him for raising concerns of wrongdoing?  I say, at least in the spirit of reprisal law, he most definitely has.  99% of investigations under the current law would say he has not.  It’s especially gray because Sergeant Johnson’s boss could attribute the lack of an award to a million other things aside from the protected communication which would all but erase any potential of a substantiated reprisal. 


In essence, in order to prove that there is a direct link between the fact that someone made a protected communication and that person was punished solely because they made that report, one of two things has to happen: either the person who committed the reprisal must essentially explicitly admit to it, or, you have to somehow be able to read the culprit’s mind.  That is why it is so difficult to substantiate a reprisal and that is why retribution (which I would define as any reprisal that isn’t found to be “reprisal” under our current laws) can be carried out so unabatedly in our government.  The result is the unspoken truth in our military: reprisal law is a farce and the IG system set up to protect military members is an unequivocal failure.


When I was serving abroad in an embassy, one of my colleagues told me they had had their pay paperwork forged by their superior.  As the person worked for the Department of State, I reported the issue to the State Department’s Inspector General. The response I received:


“We cannot investigate the claims made unless [Person X] files the complaint themselves.  Please advise [Person X] that they are free to file a complaint to this office.”


I chuckled to myself and pictured this…


 “911 – what’s your emergency?”


“Ah yes, there’s been a murder”


“I’m sorry sir, in order for us to respond, the victim needs to be the one to report that…”


And people wonder why there’s no faith in the system…