WASHINGTON — Annoyed by the Navy's handling of the Tailhook Assn. sexual harassment scandal, the House Appropriations Committee voted Monday to slash 10,000 military jobs from Navy headquarters here and around the world.
The move, led by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a hard-nosed former Marine who chairs the panel's defense appropriations subcommittee, is expected to be approved by the House when it votes on the $253-billion defense budget Thursday.
The cut may not survive in the Senate, however, and Murtha acknowledged that it is designed primarily to urge disciplinary action against the officers involved and to halt what he called a "cover-up" by high-ranking Navy brass.
The committee's action, taken by voice vote without dissent, followed the resignation Friday of Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III.
Garrett, who attended the convention but said that he witnessed no improper behavior, blamed himself for a "leadership failure" that was responsible for the behavior at the convention and the subsequent slow-moving investigation.
Twenty-six women--half of them Navy fliers--have said that they were groped and grabbed while forced along a gantlet of male Navy officers in a hotel hallway during the 1991 Tailhook convention in Las Vegas. The convention, named for the device that snags jets as they land on aircraft carriers, is an annual event for Navy aviators.
No charges have been filed in the alleged assaults, and only one aviator has "received counseling" for his participation.
Initial inquiries implicated only two men, although 1,500 people were interviewed about the women's charges. The investigation is now in the hands of the Defense Department's inspector general and as many as 70 officers could face disciplinary proceedings, the Navy has said.
"Here we have a group of young men who absolutely humiliated a number of women," Murtha said in an interview after the vote. "They should be dismissed from the service. There is no way we can tolerate that in the armed forces today . . . and the Navy has not been responsive."
If the Navy takes action in the Tailhook case, he added, the reduction in headquarters staff jobs may be reconsidered in a Senate-House conference on military appropriations later this year.
Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said of the cutback: "It's Murtha's play--I'm backing him."
Murtha was commended by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) for sending a letter last week to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney seeking Garrett's resignation.
Murtha said that he originally planned to seek a cut of 5,000 jobs in Navy headquarters at the Pentagon and major commands around the world but doubled the size of the proposed reduction because of the Navy's handling of the Tailhook inquiry. The next secretary of the Navy, he said, must be strong enough "to overcome the Navy's innate prejudice against women."
Murtha also complained that the Navy has failed for two years to file a report on an incident at the Naval Academy at Annapolis in which a woman student was handcuffed to a urinal in a men's room.