WASHINGTON - A new effort to track the extent to which extremists have infiltrated the U.S. military may be in trouble even before it has the chance to produce any results.
Lawmakers created the all-new deputy inspector general for Diversity and Inclusion and Extremism in the Military (DIEM) as part of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which went into effect this past January.
But a report Monday from Defense Department Acting Inspector General Sean O'Donnell warns the office is already facing what he describes as "significant challenges," including funding shortfalls and potential conflicts of interest.
"Without swift congressional action to address Section 554 legislative changes and additional funding, the DoD OIG is limited in its ability to fulfill the requirements of this mandate," according to O'Donnell.
Specifically, the Defense Department inspector general report calls for additional money to be allocated so it can hire up to about 80 people to work in the newly created office, more than the 10 to 12 staffers it is currently in the process of hiring.
The report also warns that the independence of the new office is at risk because it is currently required to report directly to the U.S. secretary of defense.
O'Donnell says he has reached out to lawmakers to address the problems.
An interim deputy inspector general for Diversity and Inclusion and Extremism, Stephanie Wright, was appointed in March. The office's first report is due in fiscal year 2022.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has made countering extremism within the military while fostering diversity a top priority since taking office.
"Diversity, equity & inclusion is important to this military now & it will be important in the future" per @SecDef "We're going to make sure that our military looks like America. & that our leadership looks like what's in the ranks of the military"— Jeff Seldin (@jseldin) June 10, 2021
In April, he ordered senior leadership to take immediate action to counter extremism in the ranks, mandating better screening of potential recruits and improved training for personnel preparing to retire from military service — a group that has been disproportionately recruited by extremist groups.
Two reports issued earlier this year found that while the number of extremists in the U.S. military is small, it is growing.
"The data should serve as a cautionary tale," the Washington-based policy research organization Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) wrote in its report, issued in April, adding, "the military and law enforcement agencies need to take preventive action now."