Ex-Navy Auditor Harassed Women for 20 Years, Watchdog Finds

The Pentagon’s watchdog concluded that the top Navy auditor, who retired in September 2019 after a misconduct probe was initiated, had a 20-year history of sexual harassment and called on the current Navy auditor general to improve handling and investigations of harassment complaints.

The Defense Department inspector general said former Navy Auditor General Ronnie J. Booth “engaged in a pervasive and egregious pattern of sexual harassment toward multiple female employees over a period spanning more than 20 years,” according to the 56-page report released on Wednesday. “We substantiated the allegation that” Booth “sexually harassed 12 female Naval Audit Service employees” with “quid pro quo sexual propositions when interacting” with them.

Booth said he had “no comment at all” when reached by Bloomberg News on Wednesday and told that the watchdog’s report was published.

The report, which cites several women as calling Booth a “predator,” comes as the U.S. military is under increasing pressure to address issues of harassment, sexual assault and racist behavior in its ranks, and it reflects a failure within the armed forces to address problems that have been identified for decades.

A 90-day Department of Defense commission to review the military’s handling of sexual assault cases has begun work. A report Wednesday from the Government Accountability Office said “there are areas in which DoD can focus to further address the issue. With the exception of some more recent initiatives, the department’s efforts have been largely focused on responding to, rather than preventing, incidents of sexual assault.”

Booth was earlier given the inspector general’s “tentative conclusions letter” containing preliminary findings and offered “the opportunity to comment on the results of our investigation before finalizing our report.” He told the watchdog in a voicemail message on March 2 that he didn’t know “where these accusations are coming from” and declined to provide written comments to investigators, according to the report.

In an earlier interview with the watchdog, Booth said “he was ‘big’ on mentoring and there was ‘no difference’ between how he mentored men and women,” according to the report. Booth said he “had an open door policy for mentoring, in which he would talk to anyone who walked into his office and asked for mentoring.”

One accuser interviewed by the watchdog said “mentoring session” appeared to mean “sexual encounter.”

According to the report, Booth propositioned female employees in what were “clear examples of quid pro quo, requesting sexual favors in exchange for career advancement, all under the guise of professional career mentoring that the employees expected from a senior leader,” the inspector general report said.

The probe was opened in July 2019 at the request of Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee. Investigators interviewed 64 current or former Navy or Pentagon staff and Naval Audit Service employees identified as potentially having information relevant to the investigation. Bloomberg News was the first to report her request.

Booth began his long career in the Naval Audit Service as a intern in 1982, eventually being named top auditor in February 2019.

The report said that because Booth is no longer employed by the Navy, a copy of the report should be included in his personnel file. It also said that the Navy “should ensure that supervisors, human resource officials, legal advisors, and IG personnel understand that incidents of sexual harassment involving a senior official must be reported” to the inspector general regardless of whether a formal or informal complaint is filed.

“We recommend that the Acting Secretary of the Navy review this report and take appropriate action,” according to the report.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “takes the issue of sexual assault and sexual harassment very seriously” and the report is being reviewed by the acting Navy secretary, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.

Navy spokeswoman Priscilla Rodriguez said in an email that the service “continually strives to foster an environment of dignity and respect, where sexual harassment is never tolerated, condoned or ignored.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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