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IG: Pentagon denied religious exemptions to vaccine mandate too quickly

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According to a memo from Department of Defense Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, the Pentagon may have moved too quickly in denying religious exemption requests to the department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The memo was sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin back in June and later obtained by Military.com.

“The volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning,” the memo said. “Assuming a 10-hour work day with no breaks or attention to other matters, the average review period was about 12 minutes for each package. Such a review period seems insufficient to process each request in an individualized manner and still perform the duties required of their position.”

The inspector general said the speed at which the Pentagon reviewed religious exemption requests to the vaccine mandate could lead to legal challenges to the denial decisions. O’Donnell also wrote that his office “found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DOD and Military Service policies.”

“Some of the appellate decisions included documentation that demonstrated a greater consideration of facts and circumstances involved in a request,” O’Donnell wrote.

The Military.com report comes just days after the Biden administration urged a federal court to allow the vaccine mandate for federal workers to take effect. The mandate was originally blocked back in January before being revived in April and put on hold again in the months since.

Charles Scarborough of the U.S. Department of Justice said the mandate was within President Joe Biden’s authority “as CEO of the federal workforce.” Trent McCotter of Boyden Gray & Associates, representing federal employees challenging the rule, said allowing a rule simply to avoid disruption would make the president’s power too broad.

Reuters contributed to this report.

THE PENTAGON’S INSPECTOR GENERAL SAYS THE PENTAGON MAY HAVE MOVED TOO QUICKLY IN DENYING MILITARY MEMBERS’ RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS TO THE DEPARTMENT’S VACCINE MANDATE.
THIS — ACCORDING TO AN INTERNAL MEMO — SENT TO DEFENSE SECRETARY LLOYD AUSTIN IN JUNE — AND LATER OBTAINED BY MILITARY NEWS WEBSITE MILITARY.COM.
IN THE MEMO — THE INSPECTOR GENERAL SAID QUOTE “WE FOUND A TREND OF GENERALIZED ASSESSMENTS RATHER THAN THE INDIVIDUALIZED ASSESSMENT THAT IS REQUIRED BY FEDERAL LAW AND D-O-D AND MILITARY SERVICE POLICIES.”
MASS DENIALS OF EXEMPTION REQUESTS WERE DESCRIBED AS “CONCERNING” — ESTIMATING THE AVERAGE REVIEW TIME WAS JUST 12 MINUTES.
THE MILITARY-DOT-COM REPORT COMES JUST DAYS AFTER THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION URGED A FEDERAL COURT TO ALLOW THE VACCINE MANDATE FOR FEDERAL WORKERS TO TAKE EFFECT.
THE MANDATE WAS ORIGINALLY BLOCKED BACK IN JANUARY — BEFORE BEING REVIVED IN APRIL AND PUT ON HOLD AGAIN IN THE MONTHS SINCE.

According to a memo from Department of Defense Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, the Pentagon may have moved too quickly in denying religious exemption requests to the department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The memo was sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin back in June and later obtained by Military.com.

“The volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning,” the memo said. “Assuming a 10-hour work day with no breaks or attention to other matters, the average review period was about 12 minutes for each package. Such a review period seems insufficient to process each request in an individualized manner and still perform the duties required of their position.”

The inspector general said the speed at which the Pentagon reviewed religious exemption requests to the vaccine mandate could lead to legal challenges to the denial decisions. O’Donnell also wrote that his office “found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DOD and Military Service policies.”

“Some of the appellate decisions included documentation that demonstrated a greater consideration of facts and circumstances involved in a request,” O’Donnell wrote.

The Military.com report comes just days after the Biden administration urged a federal court to allow the vaccine mandate for federal workers to take effect. The mandate was originally blocked back in January before being revived in April and put on hold again in the months since.

Charles Scarborough of the U.S. Department of Justice said the mandate was within President Joe Biden’s authority “as CEO of the federal workforce.” Trent McCotter of Boyden Gray & Associates, representing federal employees challenging the rule, said allowing a rule simply to avoid disruption would make the president’s power too broad.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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