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Inspectors on fleetwide hunt for anything offensive

Inspectors on fleetwide hunt for anything offensive

Jun. 17, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
(John Harman/Staff)
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Navy and Marine inspectors have less than two weeks to roam all workspaces and community areas to root out anything that hints at being lewd, crude or just plain offensive to your co-workers.

Navy and Marine inspectors have less than two weeks to roam all workspaces and community areas to root out anything that hints at being lewd, crude or just plain offensive to your co-workers.

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Navy and Marine inspectors have less than two weeks to roam all workspaces and community areas to root out anything that hints at being lewd, crude or just plain offensive to your co-workers.

The workplace inspections are a mandate from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as part of ongoing efforts to curb sexual assaults plaguing the services — and a culture that has tolerated them for too long.

Hagel ordered in May that the Army, Navy and Marine Corps conduct inspections similar to ones conducted by the Air Force last year.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus outlined how he wants his services to proceed via a fleetwide message, ALNAV 038/13, issued June 7. Leaders have since been hustling to execute the order.

Here’s all you need to know before the inspections hit your command:

Q. Who are the inspectors?

A. Mabus has entrusted inspections to local command leadership. “It seemed that it was better to leave it to the local, not just command authority, but everyone working in that workplace to define,” Mabus told reporters June 13.

Commanding officers, officers-in-charge and civilian directors will direct the inspections, but the execution can be entrusted to no lower than E-7s — chiefs and gunnies.

Q. What will be considered offensive?

A. Inspectors will be looking for “materials that create a degrading, hostile, or offensive work environment.”

This will largely be open to interpretation of local commands.

The Navy has created an inspection report template that you can view at www.donsapro.navy.mil. In it, the Navy gives hypothetical examples, including “unprofessional calendar,” “pornographic magazines,” “inappropriate cartoon” and “song lyrics.”

Mabus said he’s largely trusting the gut reaction of leaders. An inspector will probably know a problem when he or she sees it, Mabus said, referencing a quote from the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. The judge, finding it difficult to define pornography, famously said, “I know it when I see it.”

“It just seemed to be the best way to do it,” Mabus said of the inspections, while talking to reporters at a Defense Writers Group meeting June 13 in Washington.

Even so, Mabus did seek a better definition of “offensive” from the Defense Department. Officials there gave him no additional guidance.

“I basically got back the original language and decided that I’m not sure I could define it, either, in terms of a one-size-fits-all definition,” he said.

Leaving it to local commands to decide will likely mean different interpretations.

When Air Force leaders conducted their inspections, they found more than 32,000 “inappropriate” items.

Some were obvious: porn, profanity-laced comics, torture videos and even a pubic hair placed in a logbook.

But they also removed milder items, such as copies of an Air Force Times newspaper — a sister publication of Navy Times — that had a picture of female airmen breastfeeding on the cover.

Other debatable items: World War II-era aircraft nose art, a Princess Leia action figure and a book called “What’s Your Poo Telling You?” — a book written by a doctor that explains what health information you can glean from your bowel movements.

These and other items led some airmen to criticize inspectors as being overzealous. The ALNAV makes no reference to what the Air Force uncovered, and there were no indications Navy leaders were taking those lessons learned and applying them to the service’s efforts.

Q. With commands conducting inspections, are there concerns of the rules being applied inconsistently across the department?

A. “The secretary of the Navy is confident our Navy and Marine Corps commanders can and will carry out the tasking contained in the message,” said Capt. Pamela Kunze, SECNAV’s spokeswoman.

Another Navy official pointed out that guidance against offensive material in workspaces isn’t new. SECNAV Instruction 5300.26D, DON’s policy on sexual harassment, already bans display of lewd writings, images or recordings. “We have and will continue to entrust our commanding officers and sailors to comply with Navy guidance already established,” the official said.

Q. When will inspections occur?

A. All commands must complete their inspections by June 28. Inspection results will be due to SECNAV by July 12 and will be forwarded to DoD.

Q. What areas are subject to inspection?

A. All sailor, Marine and civilian workspaces to include: offices, ships, aircraft, government vehicles, hangars, ready rooms, conference rooms, cubicles, storage rooms, tool and equipment rooms, workshops, breakrooms, galleys, recreation areas, the heads and Navy and Marine Corps Exchanges. There’s no intent to pull magazines from the exchanges’ shelves.

Navy schoolhouses, including the Naval Academy, Officer Candidate Schools and the recruit depots are also subject to the inspections.

Common areas of barracks and bachelor quarters, along with on-base public-private venture housing also will be searched. Community spaces in off-base PPV barracks will be inspected, so long as there are no legal stipulations in the contract that would prevent it.

Q. What isn’t subject to inspection?

A. Inspectors are NOT supposed to dig into your government laptop or desktop computers, the lone exception being if you have an inappropriate screen saver.

Also free from inspection: individual barracks rooms and personal living quarters, your assigned desk and cabinets, your clothing, your locker, purses, briefcases, backpacks, your vehicle and your personal electronics, such as iPads and iPhones.

Q. So, am I safe if I have potentially offensive content on my work computer?

A. Definitely not. While you’re free from this inspection, you’re still subject to existing rules. Commands “have a continuing responsibility to ensure appropriate procedures are in place which prevent degrading, offensive or unlawful material from being stored on government computers,” the ALNAV states.

Q. What happens to materials deemed inappropriate by inspectors?

A. Inspectors will ask the owner of the material to remove it from the workspace immediately. In most cases, it will not be confiscated. However, inspectors are told to seize anything that constitutes contraband. The ALNAV defines contraband as “materials that are lewd, lascivious, obscene, or pornographic, as well as supremacist images, publications or materials.” Again, discretion has been given to local commands to make a judgment call in these cases.

Q. Can sailors or Marines face further disciplinary action?

A. It depends on what inspectors find, the ALNAV states. “If evidence of a crime is discovered during an inspection ... individuals conducting the inspection are to immediately contact the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and comply with applicable standard procedures.”

The ALNAV does not provide an all-inclusive list but gives examples such as child pornography, illegal drugs and paraphernalia, unauthorized weapons and stolen property.

Q. What if inspections turn up materials that can’t be easily removed, such as graffiti in the head?

A. A Navy official said items will be removed “by the most appropriate means possible.” In other words, they could be physically removed, or in the case of graffiti, painted over or sanded down.

Q. Will there be additional guidance?

A. Leaders are keeping a close eye on inspection execution and are preparing to offer commands further assistance if they need it. Mabus stressed that commanding officers, officers-in-charge and civilian directors must “provide clear guidance and intent to those members delegated authority to conduct inspections.”

Q. What if inspectors are unsure whether something is inappropriate?

A. Commands have been instructed to use their equal opportunity advisers, staff judge advocates and command counsel as sounding boards to help determine whether something is offensive and/or degrading. They can also assist with suspected criminal activity.

Q. What data will inspectors collect, and what happens to it?

A. The inspection template provided by the Navy is a Microsoft Excel file. Commands are instructed to log the amount and type of inappropriate material found, where it was discovered and how it was removed. Results will be forwarded up the chain of the Navy Department and then on to the Defense Department.

Q. Are there plans for future inspections?

A. Yes.

“This, like most things, is not a one-time process,” Mabus told reporters.

Mabus wants leaders to conduct such inspections at least once a year. Navy officials point out that regular command inspections, a tool already used across the fleet, can also root out offensive materials.

“The Naval Inspector General and Deputy Naval Inspector General for Marine Corps Matters are directed to review and address this ongoing requirement during regular command inspections and assessments,” the ALNAV states.

“Our goal is to foster a command climate that encourages reporting assault ... also while providing support to victims and holding those responsible accountable,” said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson. “Bottom line: offensive and degrading material creates a negative environment.”

Staff writer Jacqueline Klimas contributed to this report.

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