Transcript: DOD Defends DADT Survey
BY Kerry Eleveld
July 12 2010 7:50 PM ET
The Department of Defense held an impromptu late after noon briefing Friday to respond to the coverage and criticism of the poll it released to 400,000 troops last week regarding the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” After providing some basic talking points about the survey, spokesman Geoff Morrell took a little over 30 minutes of questions about the tone and intent of the survey.
The survey includes 103 questions in total and has three sections: The first section gauges the demographic of participants; the second gauges their professional and personal experience in the military; and the third tries to assess how repeal might affect the individual being surveyed.
Morrell defended the survey as “professional” and “the only scientifically supported” way to glean information about how repeal would affect the troops.
But he had no answer for the key question of why the military would poll service members on changing the policy regarding gays and lesbians when it has never polled troops before changing other critical personnel policies, such as integrating the force racially and allowing women to serve in combat positions. Morrell also could not say why questions were excluded about how prior DADT discharges have disrupted unit cohesion, especially since the survey asks respondents whether having openly gay members in their unit would affect unit cohesion.
Below is a partial transcript of the call.
Geoff Morrell’s opening:
I see a lot of stories have been written about [the survey] — I think some of them, at least in their tone and in their titles, have been inflammatory in the worst case, misleading in the best case.
We did not intend for this survey to be shared in such a public fashion.
What we were trying to do was preserve the integrity and credibility of the answers that it elicits from the force, and the outside commentary and indeed the outside pressure from some of the interest groups, frankly, on both sides of this issue is not helpful to this process.
[The survey] is really the only scientifically supported engagement instrument that we have.
The intent of the survey is not [to be] in any way itself a referendum on whether or not there should be a repeal of DADT. That is not the mandate of the working group. The working group has been tasked with studying how you go about implementing a repeal if it were to take place.
We have been working with a very professional, reputable polling firm that produced what we feel to be a credible and professional survey that stands up under scrutiny.
Of the 103 questions, I think there are 10 in total that address those situational privacy scenarios [( as showering with gays and lesbians].
We think it would be irresponsible to conduct a survey that didn’t try to address these types of things. Because when DADT is repealed, we will have to determine if there are any challenges in those particular areas, any adjustments that need to be made in terms of how we educate the force to handle those situations, or perhaps even facility adjustments that need to be made to deal with those scenarios.
We won’t know any of that until we get a sense from the force about their attitudes. It could turn out from the survey that there are far fewer concerns than we are led to believe. Could turn out there are more or different concerns than we had anticipated. But we need this survey and we need people to participate in this survey.
Question and Answer:
Question: Historically, with other integrations, of African-Americans in the military and women serving in combat positions, etc. polling was not done. Why do so in this case?
Morrell: I frankly don’t know if the premise of the question is correct, we didn’t poll previously; polling has come a long way over the years and is a generally accepted wise practice in order to get a sense of attitudes.
We think with an issue that is potentially as volatile as this one ... [inaudible] ... try to strip the emotion out of it and try to strip potential prejudices out of it and try to get very specific questions with specific scenarios, so it’s devoid of a lot of preconceptions.
Isn’t even asking the question about showers homophobic by nature?
We think we it would not be doing as comprehensive a job as the secretary had asked the working group for us not to delve into the issue of privacy concerns. And part of the privacy concerns is in very personal situations, i.e. bathing situations, living situations, socializing situations.
It may turn out that their concerns are not what were indicated in the forums that we’ve participated in. It may turn out they were far less concerned about this than we thought; they may be more concerned about [it]. But we need to find out any potential problems associated with repeal and then determine how we mitigate those problems.
The secretary’s attitude about this is he thinks this change should be made but he’s insisting that it be done smartly. And so we are going to go to extraordinary lengths to make sure we have the best understanding of the attitudes of the force possible. That is why he doubled the size of the survey group. ...
Are you oversampling — is it necessary, is it signaling more concern for the troops’ opinions than is really necessary? [Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked for the sampling size to be doubled from 200,000 to 400,000.]
This is one of those that the secretary decided based on his own judgment ... and my sense is that he did so out of an abundance of caution, out of an abundance of appreciation for the views of the force.
He wants to make sure that they feel as though their voices have been heard, and I don’t believe that anybody thinks there’s any harm done. I’ve never heard of any harm being done by getting more information rather than less information.
Some people say you’re assuming there will be problems and that’s problematic in itself. What do you say to that?
We aren’t assuming there will be problems. This has been the law now for 17 years or so — we’ve obviously had a great deal of dealings with this issue over the last nearly two decades that this has been the law and with the force over the last several months with these forums and through the online engagements, and we are not creating issues where we believe there to be none.
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