Military Chain of Command Needs Accountability

The Senate must reform the process for reviewing retirement nominations of three- and four-star officers

EARLIER this month I created a controversy when I raised questions with the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Navy regarding the career of a four-star admiral. Senate rules require a vote to confirm the retirement nomination of any three- or four-star officers. Typically, the Senate votes to confirm without debate. Since coming to the Senate two years ago, I have adopted a different approach.

Americans deserve to know that when the Senate confers a high honor on military leadership, it does so with clear justification and solid grounding in the facts of a person's career. Those we honor should serve to a higher standard. The vote to confirm should not be a formality.

We should review nominees carefully. If a senator has questions or concerns, he or she has every right to get them addressed in an accurate, timely manner. This was not my experience in reviewing the retirement nomination of Navy Adm. Henry Mauz. Because of my frustrating experience, I have decided the best use of my time is not on a single nomination, but in reforming the overall review and nomination system.

When the Mauz nomination came before the full Senate, I carefully reviewed his history. Admiral Mauz is the commander in chief of the US Atlantic Fleet. On May 10, he was nominated by President Clinton to retire in grade as a four-star admiral.

Two cases involving Admiral Mauz caused me concern. First, Lt. Darlene Simmons, a lawyer for the Navy, alleges inappropriate action by Mauz with respect to the investigation and disposition of her sexual harassment case. In addition, Senior Chief George Taylor, a military policeman, alleges that Mauz inappropriately used government assets and retaliated against him for blowing the whistle. Both Lieutenant Simmons and Senior Chief Taylor expressed to the Senate Armed Services Committee their view that Mauz should not be retired at four stars.

In Simmons's case, the Navy acknowledged that she was sexually harassed by her superior, and it apologized; so some senators asked me what it had to do with Mauz. Simmons's complaint worked way up to the level of Mauz because others in her chain of command had failed to stop the retaliation she was repeatedly subjected to after she reported a serious case of sexual harassment. This point is not in dispute by the Navy or anyone else. So it was appropriate and necessary that Simmons's case was brought to the attention of Mauz. But Simmons maintains that even Mauz failed to help.

After meeting with the Navy and Committee staff and reviewing information available to the public on both cases, I had more questions than answers. The Navy gave me unreliable information. Individual service members appeared to have legitimate concerns and unanswered questions, and they were not addressed. If a US senator had a tough time getting adequate responses from the Navy - and I have direct access to the highest level of leadership - I can imagine the difficulties facing Simmons or Taylor.

I decided a public hearing might be the best way to air the concerns. I wrote to the Armed Services Committee to request a hearing on the nomination before asking the Senate to vote on it. The other Democratic women senators signed my letter. The committee said a hearing was unnecessary. I disagreed, so I took the matter to the full Senate for debate. Some senators questioned why I thought a hearing was necessary when the Navy had conducted an investigation, and in both cases found them to be without merit.

I would argue that the investigative capabilities of the Navy and the Defense Department do not have the public's confidence. A special advisory board is reviewing the Defense Department's internal investigative processes so recommendations for improvement can be made for all the services, and specifically the Navy.

It is essential that the Senate reform the nomination review process. The first thing we need is access to timely, reliable information. Legitimate allegations must be reviewed before the nominations come to the Senate floor.

I did not get a hearing on Admiral Mauz, but the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee acknowledged that the nomination system must be reformed. He gave his commitment to implement necessary changes before the 104th Congress convenes in January.

This country believes strongly in the power of a single vote. I will never hesitate to ensure that my vote in the Senate is available to give voice to the service men and women who stand sentry over this country. I owe them that much.

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