A Pentagon survey, seeking the views of active duty troops about openly gay service, has apparently fallen on hard times. Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith told CNN that just two days before the Aug. 15 deadline about 104,000 of the 400,000 100-question surveys had been returned. But the 26-percent response rate, Smith said, is typical for a questionnaire of this size.
Two weeks earlier, Stars and Stripes, a military publication, reported only a 10-percent response rate, which may have prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to remind troops of the surveys' importance.
"Your responses to this survey will help assess the impact of a change in the 'don't ask, don't tell law' and associated policy on military readiness, effectiveness and unit cohesion, should such a change occur," Gates wrote. "The end result: more informed decisions."
The ultimate purpose of the survey is to inform the Pentagon working group on how to implement a policy change when Congress repeals 17-year old "don't ask, don't tell" ( DADT ) federal law. Senate and House panels have already approved a repeal measure. The full House has also approved repeal. The full Senate is expected to take up the issue next month. A final working group report is due to President Obama Dec. 1.
The survey, however, has drawn fire from DADT opponents. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a legal services and advocacy organization, warned gay soldiers not to complete the questionnaire after the Defense Department would not guarantee anonymity and protection against being discharged under the current policy for participating in the survey.
Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay veterans, said he is not surprised the survey has generated yawns among active duty personnel.
"From what we are hearing, troops have little interest in this survey and simply just don't care about this policy change," he said. "While the Department of Defense and Westat [ the research firm behind the survey ] are spinning the low response rate to the 'don't ask, don't tell' survey as expected and sufficient, neither are disclosing the fact that the military leaders have had to put significant pressure on troops on multiple occasions to even get this level of response."
Nicholson added, "Some commanders and senior leaders have even told subordinates that participation is mandatory. These occurrences further degrade the credibility of this survey's methodology and violate ethical standards that prevent researchers from compelling respondents to participate in survey research."
Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a public-policy institute affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, puts the low response rate in historical and political perspective. "The reason so few troops have filled out their surveys is that, as objective data have shown for years, most just don't care if gays are allowed to serve," he said. "The depiction of repeal as some mysterious, complicated process is incorrect."
In addition to the survey, the Defense Department is seeking confidential comments on line. Pentagon spokeswoman Smith told CNN that 67,000 people have responded to date. That number includes 2,450 active-duty troops, with 280 of them self-identified as gay men or lesbians, offering their views.
Copyright 2010. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Chuck Colbert