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Navy official vacationed in Hawaii, billed government, belittled staff, IG report says

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer (DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

The head of the Navy’s sexual assault prevention programs took family vacations to Hawaii in the winter, billed the government for personal travel, belittled her staff and retired abruptly after investigators demanded answers, according to findings from the Pentagon’s Inspector General.

Jill Loftus, the former head of the Navy’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, denied the allegations, saying she had engaged in “oversight” activities on her trips and worked “hundreds of hours” on top of her normal work week. She justified a trip to Key West in part by talking to bar owners there about sexual assault awareness.

The inspector general’s report, scathing in its detail, countered that Loftus, a top Pentagon civilian official and former Navy inspector general herself, had billed the government for primarily personal trips to Hawaii, New Orleans, New York, Japan and Spain. The trips occurred from 2015 to 2018.

Investigators also found that she had berated her staff. Loftus “failed to treat a female officer with respect making repeated public, and belittling comments about her makeup, hair and attire while other witnesses found the officer’s appearance as appropriate.”

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer reviewed the report and has taken “appropriate action,” Navy Capt. Greg Hicks said in a statement, declining to specify the type of action. Loftus did not respond immediately to a request for comment relayed by the Navy.

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Last year, the Inspector General reported that complaints against senior officials such as Loftus had more than doubled since 2008, although the number of allegations of substantiated wrongdoing had dropped.

Loftus joined the ranks of senior Pentagon officials in 1993. She had served as the Navy’s deputy inspector general from 1997 to 2009. In 2009, she became the first director of the Navy’s office of sexual assault prevention, a post she held until she retired Sept. 3, days after the Pentagon Inspector General had renewed a request to interview her, according to the report.

In 2015, the Pentagon Inspector General found that Loftus had overcharged the government $7,213.43 for travel expenses. Loftus disputed investigators’ conclusions.

The ‘family vacation’

The most damaging finding regarding her travel involved two trips to Hawaii. Investigators, who interviewed 18 witnesses and sifted through 10,000 emails, travel records and documents, determined that Loftus began planning trips to Hawaii months before planning official business there. She then directed her staff “to create official business for her to justify her family vacation to Hawaii.”

Her itineraries, finalized days before her arrival, “contained few meetings, office calls or other functions,” the report concludes. Her schedule also contained “‘executive’ or ‘office time’ in which no one could account for Ms. Loftus’ activities.”

“We concluded that Ms. Loftus conducted official travel to Hawaii in February 2017 and February 2018 for primarily personal reasons; specifically to have a family vacation with (name redacted), and that Ms. Loftus conducted minimal or no official work on those trips.”

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The stays in Hawaii, in VIP lodging, were part of longer trips to tour Navy bases in Japan. In 2017, Loftus spent seven days in Hawaii and worked eight hours, billing the government $4,838.79 in travel costs. In 2018, she spent five days in Hawaii and worked 7 hours, 45 minutes, according to the report. That trip cost $5,628.60.

“We determined that Ms. Loftus’ travel to Hawaii in February 2017 and February 2018 resulted in a waste of government resources,” according to the report.

Loftus disputed the inspector general’s conclusions in a statement included in the report. Investigators failed to account for her after-hours work emailing correspondence and preparing documents and memos.

She also noted her “oversight” mission that saw her spending “many hours talking with Sailors and Marines, family members, Fleet and Family Service providers, church personnel in town, bar owners (Key West is one example) in their own environments to get a sense of sexual assault awareness…”

Later, in all capital letters, she concluded: “AT EVERY SITE, ON EVERY TRIP YOU CITE, I PERFORMED MISSION ESSENTIAL BUSINESS, NOT ‘VACATION TIME.”’

During seven trips that cost taxpayers $15,861.97 the inspector general found that “Ms. Loftus conducted minimal or no official work during the duty day and did not expend a reasonable portion of her time in the performance of her official duties.”

‘Hell on wheels’

Investigators interviewed staff members who worked for Loftus. Five of them said they “believed that Ms. Loftus’ leadership created a toxic work environment.”

A woman officer described her first meeting with Loftus that “started with insults and got progressively worse.” Loftus remarked on the woman’s height, her “garish” lipstick and told her she needed a haircut. Another civilian in the office told investigators that the officer’s appearance met regulations.

A senior leader in the office said the atmosphere at work changed daily. “On a good day…it’s slightly awkward but productive,” he told investigators. “On a bad day, it’s hell on wheels…In (Ms. Loftus’) bad moments, she can be…angry, condescending, belittling, accusatory.”

Loftus told the senior leader privately that she regarded her staff as incompetent.

In her rebuttal, Loftus responded that she was right to call out the officer’s makeup, saying it was “out of uniform” but denied otherwise disparaging her appearance.

She did acknowledge questioning her staff’s ability in the private meeting.

“I did say they were ‘incapable’ and I stand by that,” she wrote.

Investigators concluded the testimony of her staff was “more persuasive and credible than hers.”

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© 2019 USA Today

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