Fighting Discrimination at the Department of Defense
November 16, 2016
By Persephone Tan
At the Department, the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity (ODMEO) is the primary organization responsible for developing policy to ensure changes like this are institutional. ODMEO is aligned with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness (OUSD P&R), whose mission is to recruit and retain a highly qualified force to serve both the military and civilians.
ODMEO is charged with developing diversity policies and programs that covers both civilian employees and military members. Other programs that ODMEO support are Military Equal Opportunity (MEO), Civilian Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), the Disability Program, Diversity and Inclusion, and an outreach component.
Last year also marked a historic moment. When DoD announced that service members were allowed to serve openly as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, ODMEO put the language into its military equal opportunity (MEO) program to set a policy that protects service members and to include “sexual orientation” as a basis of discrimination. Adding “gender identity” to ODMEO’s umbrella policy on diversity management and equal opportunity in the DoD requires an extensive process for editing DoD directives . After all, any changes to the directive will impact all levels of the Department. This includes how the updated policy will affect the types of training offered to staff and how sensitive cases and transgender-related complaints are handled. Other concerns include medical coverage and data collection.
At ODMEO, I support staff on policies pertaining to three issue areas: sexual harassment, hazing and bullying, and most recently, gender identity. These are a few of many priorities that the Department must address. I attended working group meetings with subject matter experts (SMEs) from DoD and across the Services who collaborate together to develop criteria, metrics, and procedures to tackle different cases of harassment and discrimination. Working groups are comprised of military and civilian advocates who specialize in particular areas and are usually the point of contact who would address such issues. They meet regularly to coordinate ongoing action plans and meet deadlines, providing a forum to address issues both internal and external to the Department.
For example, issues and concerns of sexual harassment, separate from sexual assault, remains a priority for the DoD. The Department has a working group that focuses on developing sexual harassment policy. The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report in 2011 on “Preventing Sexual Harassment: DOD Needs Greater Leadership Commitment and an Oversight Framework” . This report outlines the prevalence of incidents and refers to a survey conducted by DoD on active duty service members who reported incidents of sexual harassment. Recommendations were provided on how DOD can improve its commitment to preventing sexual harassment incidences and hold service members in leadership positions accountable for engaging in such actions. The sexual harassment working group is incorporating this feedback when establishing policy to examine how the military currently handles cases and how data is collected for formal and informal complaints.
The Department has also taken recent prominent issues into account. Many cases of military hazing and bullying indicate the need to strengthen policies to track complaints and hold military leaders accountable for such problematic behavior. Understanding this context is vital for ODMEO to fully incorporate all the implications and consequences of policies that emerge from this office. Currently, ODMEO staff leads working groups to address issues of sexual harassment and hazing and bullying.
Reviewing existing issuances and attending working group meetings trained me to critically analyze the use and placement of words in the directives. Words account for a lot of scrutiny and depending on who is in a working group, each office will want to make sure the interests of their constituencies (i.e. each military branch) are vocalized and protected. To mitigate any potential conflicts with the new transgender policy, I met with the Office of the General Counsel and learned to craft language appropriate for incorporating “gender identity.” Under the Secretary of Defense’s direction to prioritize the inclusion of transgender service members, I coordinated with internal staff to ensure that the updated policy follows an expedited schedule of incorporating changes.
At ODMEO I offered “third party” insight, questions, and concerns on the content of the policies drafted for review. I identified sections in the existing directive to incorporate the new changes for the transgender policy. I drafted edits for pre-coordination which requires a bureaucratic process of internal approval, formal coordination, legal review, assessment and authorization from multiple offices. Currently, the policy is undergoing coordination for review. As my time at ODMEO comes to an end, there are three major lessons I’ve learned about policymaking at the Department:
- When the Secretary of Defense announces a policy change and/or if there is political demand for information from the Pentagon, the DoD staff must work quickly to oblige and accommodate. Not only is it important to respond immediately to these urgent calls, but there must be a plan of action that often involves a thorough process to avoid discrepancies and to prevent further mistreatment for both military service members and civilians.
- There is an extensive internal process to make even the slightest change (i.e. adding one or two words), especially to an umbrella policy. The process involves many stakeholders and steps, but is also comprehensive and thorough. This coordination requires time, patience, open-mindedness, compromise, diligence, analytical skills, critical thinking, and constructive feedback.
- Cooperation with everyone is imperative, while advocating for the interests of those marginalized.
 June 30, 2016. [Online]. Available: http://www.defense.gov/News/Special-Reports/0616_transgender-policy. [Accessed: July 26, 2016].
 [Online]. Available: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/writing/dod_process.html. [Accessed: July 26, 2016].
 United States Government Accountability Office, “Preventing Sexual Harassment: DOD Needs Greater Leadership Commitment and an Oversight Framework,” September 2011. [Internet Document]. Available: http://www.gao.gov/assets/590/585344.pdf. [Accessed: July 26, 2016].
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