Pentagon officials have substantiated 590 allegations of misconduct among generals, admirals and senior civilian officials from 2013 to 2017 with trends showing a steady decline in misbehavior, according to figures released Wednesday by the Defense Department Inspector General.
Personal misconduct and ethical violations accounted for most of the violations with 277, according to the data released during testimony of military officials appearing before the House Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee. However, Glenn Fine, the inspector general, told the panel that inappropriate relationships among senior officials with subordinates remain a cause for concern.
The number of substantiated allegations of misconduct peaked in 2013 at 167 cases and dropped to its lowest point in 2017 with 58. In fiscal year 2017 there were 963 generals and admirals in the ranks, and another 1,364 senior civilian officials with an equivalent rank.
Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who chairs the personnel subcommittee, acknowledged that the vast majority of senior officers conduct themselves honorably. But he said misbehavior among senior leaders has an outsize effect on the military.
"The negative effects are even greater," Coffman said of cases of misconduct.
The military's struggles with sexual assault and harassment mirror those of society. Leaders in industry, Hollywood and the media have resigned in recent months after sexual harassment and assault scandals have erupted in recent months.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and the ranking member of the committee, blasted the military for failing to mete out discipline to top officers. She highlighted the cases of five officers, including retired Army major generals John Custer and David Haight, whose inappropriate relationships were detailed by USA TODAY.
"It is clear that the current system of deterrence is not working," Speier said.
Speier said generals and admirals often receive lighter punishment than enlisted troops for similar offenses, referred to in military circles as "different spanks for different ranks."
Army Lt. Gen. David Quantock, the Army Inspector General, disputed that senior officers receive leniency. Often, they are treated more harshly, losing large sums of money in pension when they are reduced in rank for misbehavior.
"We crush general officers," Quantock said.