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Internal Pentagon review results in high praise for Brad Carson

Brad Carson seeks to clear allegations before leaving Pentagon Former Oklahoma congressman to leave Pentagon post after GOP criticism Ex-lawmaker Carson's nomination to Pentagon post in doubt

Brad Carson at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 25.
Brad Carson at Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 25.

WASHINGTON — Defense Department employees who have worked closely with Brad Carson in the past year describe him as a gifted and visionary leader who treated everyone with respect, according to an internal review obtained Friday by The Oklahoman.

Of the 22 employees surveyed last month at the Pentagon, 21 said Carson treated them "extremely respectfully," while the other responded "very respectfully."

All 22 said Carson, a former Oklahoma congressman, "fosters a climate free from the threat of sexual harassment" and that they were confident "he would act swiftly if an accusation or incident were brought to his attention."

The survey of Carson's office at the Pentagon was the result of allegations aired by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, in February at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Inhofe said a command climate survey should be conducted before Carson's nomination as under secretary of Personnel and Readiness be considered by the panel.

According to Defense Department officials, such surveys are not typically conducted of civilian leaders and can take several months. The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute conducts the surveys, which are sometimes used to gauge the morale of a military unit.

The Defense Department said Friday the results of the survey of Carson's staff — people who report directly to him at the Pentagon — "are not from an official command climate survey conducted by the Department of Defense."

The survey was "one designed and administered by Mr. Carson's personal staff," the department said.

The survey was conducted using a commercial product and administered anonymously.

Inhofe did not comment Friday on the survey.

Subordinates' support

At a public hearing Feb. 25, Inhofe said he had received "whistle-blower things" that suggested Carson had fostered a "hostile work environment" in the Personnel and Readiness office, where he has been working since being nominated for under secretary of the office nearly a year ago.

The term "hostile work environment" is often associated with workplace harassment, typically sexual harassment. Inhofe did not list any specific complaints and acknowledged that they might not be true.

However, all 22 of those who work closely with Carson agreed — most strongly — with the statement that Carson "treats all members of (Personnel and Readiness) fairly, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age."

Carson, a Democrat who represented an eastern Oklahoma congressional district from 2001 to 2005, was stunned at Inhofe's statements at the February hearing, but immediately asked for the internal survey of his management.

However, three weeks after the hearing, Carson announced that he would leave the Pentagon. His last day is April 8.

Carson, 49, has served in key jobs at the Pentagon since 2011, first as the Army's top lawyer and then as the second-ranking civilian leader of the Army.

President Barack Obama nominated him to lead Personnel and Readiness, an area with huge jurisdiction and thousands of employees.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, stalled Carson's nomination last year and then pressured him not to perform the duties of the job for which he was nominated.

Carson took a lesser title at the Pentagon, while still leading an initiative to gauge future personnel needs. At the February committee hearing, McCain blasted Carson for disobeying the law that prohibits nominees from performing the duties of their potential job. And he mocked the Force of the Future effort that Carson spent months working on, at the defense secretary's orders.

But it was Inhofe's comments at the hearing — which caught Carson as a surprise — that may have led to his departure.

McCain told The Oklahoman last month that he would have held a committee vote on whether to advance Carson's nomination to the full Senate, but there was no guarantee Carson would have cleared the Republican-controlled panel.

Survey very positive

The survey conducted of the office showed broad and deep satisfaction with Carson's leadership among the 22 subordinates who worked with him.

On the question of whether they felt positively or negatively about their workplace, 20 said extremely positively or very positively. One was neutral and one replied "somewhat negatively."

The people were asked whether they "ever felt that your gender has played a role in your missing out on a raise, promotion, key assignment, or chance to get ahead?"

One respondent said "yes," but the question was not limited to Carson's time at Personnel and Readiness.

Of those surveyed, 17 provided additional comments, anonymously. None were negative.

One wrote, "It truly saddened our organization to hear the baseless and highly politicized comments of Senator Inhofe.

"Senator Inhofe owes Mr. Carson and the whole Personnel & Readiness organization an apology for his accusation and putting the organization through this process."

Another wrote,  "After almost 20 years in government and military service, I can honestly say that Mr. Carson is one of the best leaders I've ever seen. His deep intellectual curiosity, passion for the issues, and unmatched vision make him a perfect senior leader for (Department of Defense) and I am sorry to see him depart the building."

Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›