The Defense Department is rolling out an eight-year plan implement dozens of recommendations from its Independent Review Commission on sexual assault, chief among them standing up an independent organization to prosecute sexual assaults, harassments and related crimes, taking them outside the chain of command.
The four-tiered system includes multiple deadlines, starting in 2027 and continuing through 2030 for the more specific of the 82 recommendations the commission handed down.
“We are trying to do this on a much faster timeline than that,” a senior defense official told reporters on Wednesday. “But, you know, we wanted to sort of put forward a conservative estimate, but recognize we are going to work towards doing that much more quickly.”
The so-called road map is detailed in a 13-page document released by the Pentagon on Wednesday, with a long list of action items for each tier, as well as deadlines.
Guidance will be coming out on each starting in October, with implementation plans briefed by the end of January, and a set of metrics for tracking progress due by May 1.
“We will build back the trust of our personnel through demonstrable progress, clear and enduring implementation mechanisms, increased transparency, and continued senior leader involvement,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a memo accompanying the road map.
First on the agenda is establishing offices for special victims prosecutors, who will assume responsibility for filing charges and sending cases to courts martial. Next will be creating a workforce of independent investigators for sexual harassment, a policy that will include initiating involuntary separation for any service member with a substantiated report against them.
The road map also eliminates sexual assault response coordinator and victim advocate roles as collateral duty ― where someone serves in that role in addition to their regular job ― in favor of a professionalized workforce. The only exceptions will be on smaller ships, submarines and in isolated environments.
Other to-do’s include offering non-chargeable leave for sexual assault survivors to take time off in the aftermath of a report, focusing on survivors’ preference for reporting assaults and allowing victims of sexual harassment to access mental health, legal and other resources already available for sexual assault survivors.
Those first steps have a hard implementation deadline of 2027, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told reporters during a press conference Wednesday, but the expectation is that changes should be in place in the next two or so years for the active-duty component, with a longer lead time for reserve units.
Hicks said that while many of the action items are within DoD’s authority already, it will take some cooperation with Congress to accomplish others ― including changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and funding for hiring civilians to man independent investigating and prosecuting organizations.
The effort is expected to cost $4.6 billion between 2022 and 2027, the senior defense official told reporters.
The second tier includes something troops have been asking for: a narrative section on performance evaluations that deals specifically with an officer or noncommissioned officer’s commitment to the sexual assault prevention and response program, rather than the “yes or no” check box currently on evaluations. The deadline for that is 2028.
The road map also includes directions to collect a wide variety of new data, while breaking out some data DoD already collections. For example, publishing harassment and assault data broken down by race/ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity.
And, per recommendations from the commission, DoD will conduct research on gender and masculinity, as well as the role of gender and race/ethnicity in harassment and discrimination.
“The IRC was really clear that a lot of these issues are sort of integrated, and and build upon each other,” the senior defense official said. “We know that race and sexual orientation and issues like that can have an impact on on sexual assault and on sexual harassment.”
As part of the oversight for the implementation, Hicks’ Deputy’s Workforce Council will meet quarterly to monitor progress, and the Pentagon will do twice yearly assessments.
“I expect Department leaders to talk about this work with our total DoD workforce to create shared understanding and purpose,” Austin wrote in his memo. “We must be willing to have difficult conversations. Our readiness depends on it. Our people deserve it.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.