WASHINGTON – Complaints to the Defense Department’s inspector general hotline have climbed by 125 percent over the past four years, a senior official in the office said, and the cases include everything from abuse in the workplace to the multi-million-dollar contracting investigation now underway within the upper reaches of the Navy.
“We are marketing and branding and making ourselves more accessible, and the trend is we’re getting a lot more complaints nowadays than we were a few years ago,” DOD Hotline Director Patrick Gookin told reporters at a Pentagon briefing today, called to highlight the hotline’s efficiency and not to discuss specific cases.
Some 31,000 contacts were made to the hotline in fiscal year 2013, a sharp increase from the preceding years. “We referred last year 4,862 cases,” Gookin said.
Prominent investigations that have made national headlines over the past few years began from someone contacting the DOD hotline, which takes in all complaints and refers them to the appropriate agency or department for inquiry, he said.
In addition to the ongoing Navy contracting case, they include the 2010 investigation into mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery, sexual abuse at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, as well as the 2011 probe into improper handling of remains of the nation’s war dead at Dover Air Force Base, Del.
The purpose of the hotline is to provide a confidential and reliable means to report critical issues affecting DOD property, programs and operations, with special emphasis on matters affecting life, safety and readiness. The identities of those reporting alleged wrongdoing is protected unless there is a compelling reason not to protect that information, Gookin said. Email is no longer used; most complaints are made online. Any complaints made by phone are not recorded. The inspector general’s office can release results of an investigation only through a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.
“All intel matters are priority one,” Gookin said in response to a question about how his office would have dealt with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden if, instead of leaking classified documents to the media, he had brought his complaint about alleged abuses at the agency to the inspector general’s office.
“He had every opportunity to go through us rather than what he did,” Gookin said, adding that “those complaints would have been the highest priority we could have ever had in our hotline that I could think of.”