United States Code

USC most recently checked for updates: May 28, 2024

§ 1034.
Protected communications; prohibition of retaliatory personnel actions
(a)
Restricting Communications With Members of Congress and Inspector General Prohibited.—
(1)
No person may restrict a member of the armed forces in communicating with a Member of Congress or an Inspector General.
(2)
Paragraph (1) does not apply to a communication that is unlawful.
(b)
Prohibition of Retaliatory Personnel Actions.—
(1)
No person may take (or threaten to take) an unfavorable personnel action, or withhold (or threaten to withhold) a favorable personnel action, as a reprisal against a member of the armed forces for making or preparing or being perceived as making or preparing—
(A)
a communication to a Member of Congress or an Inspector General that (under subsection (a)) may not be restricted;
(B)
a communication that is described in subsection (c)(2) and that is made (or prepared to be made) to—
(i)
a Member of Congress;
(ii)
an Inspector General (as defined in subsection (j)) or any other Inspector General appointed under chapter 4 of title 5;
(iii)
a member of a Department of Defense audit, inspection, investigation, or law enforcement organization;
(iv)
any person or organization in the chain of command;
(v)
a court-martial proceeding; or
(vi)
any other person or organization designated pursuant to regulations or other established administrative procedures for such communications; or
(C)
testimony, or otherwise participating in or assisting in an investigation or proceeding related to a communication under subparagraph (A) or (B), or filing, causing to be filed, participating in, or otherwise assisting in an action brought under this section.
(2)
(A)
(i)
The threat to take any unfavorable action.
(ii)
The withholding, or threat to withhold, any favorable action.
(iii)
The making of, or threat to make, a significant change in the duties or responsibilities of a member of the armed forces not commensurate with the member’s grade.
(iv)
The failure of a superior to respond to any retaliatory action or harassment (of which the superior had actual knowledge) taken by one or more subordinates against a member.
(v)
The conducting of a retaliatory investigation of a member.
(B)
In this paragraph, the term “retaliatory investigation” means an investigation requested, directed, initiated, or conducted for the primary purpose of punishing, harassing, or ostracizing a member of the armed forces for making a protected communication.
(C)
Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to limit the ability of a commander to consult with a superior in the chain of command, an inspector general, or a judge advocate general on the disposition of a complaint against a member of the armed forces for an allegation of collateral misconduct or for a matter unrelated to a protected communication. Such consultation shall provide an affirmative defense against an allegation that a member requested, directed, initiated, or conducted a retaliatory investigation under this section.
(c)
Inspector General Investigation of Allegations of Prohibited Personnel Actions.—
(1)
If a member of the armed forces submits to an Inspector General an allegation that a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b) has been taken (or threatened) against the member with respect to a communication described in paragraph (2), the Inspector General shall take the action required under paragraph (4).
(2)
A communication described in this paragraph is a communication in which a member of the armed forces complains of, or discloses information that the member reasonably believes constitutes evidence of, any of the following:
(A)
A violation of law or regulation, including a law or regulation prohibiting rape, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct in violation of section 920, 920b, 920c, or 930 of this title (article 120, 120b, 120c, or 130 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), sexual harassment, or unlawful discrimination.
(B)
Gross mismanagement, a gross waste of funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety.
(C)
A threat by another member of the armed forces or employee of the Federal Government that indicates a determination or intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury to members of the armed forces or civilians or damage to military, Federal, or civilian property.
(3)
A communication described in paragraph (2) shall not be excluded from the protections provided in this section because—
(A)
the communication was made to a person who participated in an activity that the member reasonably believed to be covered by paragraph (2);
(B)
the communication revealed information that had previously been disclosed;
(C)
of the member’s motive for making the communication;
(D)
the communication was not made in writing;
(E)
the communication was made while the member was off duty; and
(F)
the communication was made during the normal course of duties of the member.
(4)
(A)
An Inspector General receiving an allegation as described in paragraph (1) shall expeditiously determine, in accordance with regulations prescribed under subsection (h), whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation of the allegation.
(B)
If the Inspector General receiving such an allegation is an Inspector General within a military department, that Inspector General shall promptly notify the Inspector General of the Department of Defense of the allegation. Such notification shall be made in accordance with regulations prescribed under subsection (h).
(C)
If an allegation under paragraph (1) is submitted to an Inspector General within a military department and if the determination of that Inspector General under subparagraph (A) is that there is not sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation of the allegation, that Inspector General shall forward the matter to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense for review.
(D)
Upon determining that an investigation of an allegation under paragraph (1) is warranted, the Inspector General making the determination shall expeditiously investigate the allegation. In the case of a determination made by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, that Inspector General may delegate responsibility for the investigation to an appropriate Inspector General within a military department.
(E)
If the Inspector General makes a preliminary determination in an investigation under subparagraph (D) that, more likely than not, a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b) has occurred and the personnel action will result in an immediate hardship to the member alleging the personnel action, the Inspector General shall promptly notify the Secretary of the military department concerned or the Secretary of Homeland Security, as applicable, of the hardship, and such Secretary shall take such action as such Secretary considers appropriate.
(F)
In the case of an investigation under subparagraph (D) within the Department of Defense, the results of the investigation shall be determined by, or approved by, the Inspector General of the Department of Defense (regardless of whether the investigation itself is conducted by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense or by an Inspector General within a military department).
(5)
Neither an initial determination under paragraph (4)(A) nor an investigation under paragraph (4)(D) is required in the case of an allegation made more than one year after the date on which the member becomes aware of the personnel action that is the subject of the allegation.
(6)
The Inspector General of the Department of Defense, or the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (in the case of a member of the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard is not operating as a service in the Navy), shall ensure that the Inspector General conducting the investigation of an allegation under this subsection is one or both of the following:
(A)
Outside the immediate chain of command of both the member submitting the allegation and the individual or individuals alleged to have taken the retaliatory action.
(B)
At least one organization higher in the chain of command than the organization of the member submitting the allegation and the individual or individuals alleged to have taken the retaliatory action.
(d)
Inspector General Investigation of Underlying Allegations.—
Upon receiving an allegation under subsection (c), the Inspector General receiving the allegation shall conduct a separate investigation of the information that the member making the allegation believes constitutes evidence of wrongdoing (as described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) of subsection (c)(2)) if there previously has not been such an investigation or if the Inspector General determines that the original investigation was biased or otherwise inadequate. In the case of an allegation received by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, the Inspector General may delegate that responsibility to the Inspector General of the armed force concerned.
(e)
Reports on Investigations.—
(1)
After completion of an investigation under subsection (c) or (d) or, in the case of an investigation under subsection (c) by an Inspector General within a military department, after approval of the report of that investigation under subsection (c)(4)(F), the Inspector General conducting the investigation shall submit a report on the results of the investigation to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the military department concerned (or to the Secretary of Homeland Security in the case of a member of the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard is not operating as a service in the Navy) and shall transmit a copy of the report on the results of the investigation to the member of the armed forces who made the allegation investigated. The report shall be transmitted to such Secretaries, and the copy of the report shall be transmitted to the member, not later than 30 days after the completion of the investigation or, in the case of an investigation under subsection (c) by an Inspector General within a military department, after approval of the report of that investigation under subsection (c)(4)(E).
(2)
In the copy of the report transmitted to the member, the Inspector General shall ensure the maximum disclosure of information possible, with the exception of information that is not required to be disclosed under section 552 of title 5. However, the copy need not include summaries of interviews conducted, nor any document acquired, during the course of the investigation. Such items shall be transmitted to the member, if the member requests the items, with the copy of the report or after the transmittal to the member of the copy of the report, regardless of whether the request for those items is made before or after the copy of the report is transmitted to the member.
(3)
(A)
Not later than 180 days after the commencement of an investigation of an allegation under subsection (c)(4), and every 180 days thereafter until the transmission of the report on the investigation under paragraph (1) to the member concerned, the Inspector General conducting the investigation shall submit a notice on the investigation described in subparagraph (B) to the following:
(i)
The member.
(ii)
The Secretary of Defense.
(iii)
The Secretary of the military department concerned, or the Secretary of Homeland Security in the case of a member of the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard is not operating as a service in the Navy.
(B)
Each notice on an investigation under subparagraph (A) shall include the following:
(i)
A description of the current progress of the investigation.
(ii)
An estimate of the time remaining until the completion of the investigation and the transmittal of the report required by paragraph (1) to the member concerned.
(4)
The report on the results of the investigation shall contain a thorough review of the facts and circumstances relevant to the allegation and the complaint or disclosure and shall include documents acquired during the course of the investigation, including summaries of interviews conducted. The report may include a recommendation as to the disposition of the complaint.
(f)
Action in Case of Substantiated Violations.—
(1)
Not later than 30 days after receiving a report from the Inspector General under subsection (e), the Secretary of Homeland Security or the Secretary of the military department concerned, as applicable, shall determine whether corrective or disciplinary action should be taken. If the Secretary concerned determines that corrective or disciplinary action should be taken, the Secretary shall take appropriate corrective or disciplinary action.
(2)
If the Inspector General determines that a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b) has occurred, the Secretary concerned shall—
(A)
order such action as is necessary to correct the record of a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b), including referring the report to the appropriate board for the correction of military records; and
(B)
submit to the Inspector General a report on the actions taken by the Secretary pursuant to this paragraph, and provide for the inclusion of a summary of the report under this subparagraph (with any personally identifiable information redacted) in the semiannual report to Congress of the Inspector General of the Department of Defense or the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, as applicable, under section 5 of the Inspector General Act of 1978 (5 U.S.C. App.).1
1
 See References in Text note below.
(3)
If the Secretary concerned determines under paragraph (1) that an order for corrective or disciplinary action is not appropriate, not later than 30 days after making the determination, such Secretary shall—
(A)
provide to the Secretary of Defense and the member or former member a notice of the determination and the reasons for not taking action; and
(B)
when appropriate, refer the report to the appropriate board for the correction of military records for further review under subsection (g).
(g)
Correction of Records When Prohibited Action Taken.—
(1)
A board for the correction of military records acting under section 1552 of this title, in resolving an application for the correction of records made by a member or former member of the armed forces who has alleged a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b), on the request of the member or former member or otherwise, may review the matter.
(2)
In resolving an application described in paragraph (1) for which there is a report of the Inspector General under subsection (e)(1), a correction board—
(A)
shall review the report of the Inspector General;
(B)
may request the Inspector General to gather further evidence;
(C)
may receive oral argument, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and take depositions; and
(D)
shall consider a request by a member or former member in determining whether to hold an evidentiary hearing.
(3)
If the board holds an administrative hearing, the member or former member who filed the application described in paragraph (1)—
(A)
may be provided with representation by a judge advocate if—
(i)
the Inspector General, in the report under subsection (e)(1), finds that there is probable cause to believe that a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b) has been taken (or threatened) against the member with respect to a communication described in subsection (c)(2);
(ii)
the Judge Advocate General concerned determines that the member or former member would benefit from judge advocate assistance to ensure proper presentation of the legal issues in the case; and
(iii)
the member is not represented by outside counsel chosen by the member; and
(B)
may examine witnesses through deposition, serve interrogatories, and request the production of evidence, including evidence contained in the investigatory record of the Inspector General but not included in the report submitted under subsection (e)(1).
(4)
The Secretary concerned shall issue a final decision with respect to an application described in paragraph (1) within 180 days after the application is filed. If the Secretary fails to issue such a final decision within that time, the member or former member shall be deemed to have exhausted the member’s or former member’s administrative remedies under section 1552 of this title.
(5)
The Secretary concerned shall order such action, consistent with the limitations contained in sections 1552 and 1553 of this title, as is necessary to correct the record of a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b).
(6)
If the Board determines that a personnel action prohibited by subsection (b) has occurred, the Board may recommend to the Secretary concerned that the Secretary take appropriate disciplinary action against the individual who committed such personnel action.
(h)
Review by Secretary of Defense.—
Upon the completion of all administrative review under subsection (f), the member or former member of the armed forces (except for a member or former member of the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard is not operating as a service in the Navy) who made the allegation referred to in subsection (c)(1), if not satisfied with the disposition of the matter, may submit the matter to the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary shall make a decision to reverse or uphold the decision of the Secretary of the military department concerned in the matter within 90 days after receipt of such a submittal.
(i)
Regulations.—
The Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to the Coast Guard when it is not operating as a service in the Navy, shall prescribe regulations to carry out this section.
(j)
Definitions.—
In this section:
(1)
The term “Member of Congress” includes any Delegate or Resident Commissioner to Congress.
(2)
The term “Inspector General” means any of the following:
(A)
The Inspector General of the Department of Defense.
(B)
The Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security, in the case of a member of the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard is not operating as a service in the Navy.
(C)
Any officer of the armed forces or employee of the Department of Defense who is assigned or detailed to serve as an Inspector General at any level in the Department of Defense.
(3)
The term “unlawful discrimination” means discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
(Aug. 10, 1956, ch. 1041, 70A Stat. 80; Pub. L. 98–525, title XIV, § 1405(19)(A), (B)(i), Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2622; Pub. L. 100–456, div. A, title VIII, § 846(a)(1), Sept. 29, 1988, 102 Stat. 2027; Pub. L. 101–225, title II, § 202, Dec. 12, 1989, 103 Stat. 1910; Pub. L. 103–337, div. A, title V, § 531(a)–(g)(1), Oct. 5, 1994, 108 Stat. 2756–2758; Pub. L. 105–261, div. A, title IX, § 933, Oct. 17, 1998, 112 Stat. 2107;
cite as: 10 USC 1034