The Air Force has changed the way it selects officers and instructors who train new recruits and reduced from four to three years the amount of time they can spend as instructors, said Gen. Edward Rice, head of the Air Education and Training Command. Rice, who testified along with Welsh, said more women are being placed in supervisory roles within the training command. The Lackland scandal has not affected recruiting, Rice said.
"I'm not in any way ready to declare victory," Rice said.
The preliminary figures for 2012 show there were nearly 800 reports of cases, ranging from inappropriate touching to rape, according to Welsh's testimony. That would be a nearly 30 percent increase from 2011, when 614 cases were reported. The number could be much greater, Welsh said, because many cases are never reported.
"It's astonishing, really," Welsh said. "Eight hundred is not acceptable, 600 is not acceptable. 300 is not acceptable. Zero is the only answer."
The 2012 figures are being audited and reviewed before being included in a report the Defense Department will submit to Congress in April, according to Welsh.
Welsh said he has stressed to the Air Force's officer corps and senior enlisted ranks the importance of eliminating sexual misconduct. As part of that effort, Welsh issued a "Letter to Airmen" this month that said images, songs and stories that are obscene or vulgar are not part of the Air Force heritage.
Not everyone who commits sexual assault is a predator, but there are predators in the ranks and they have to be found before they act, Welsh said.
The Air Force also has to identify and stop the activities that can lead to inappropriate actions.
"A young man who routinely binge drinks and loses control of himself is going to conduct bad behavior," Welsh said. "That bad behavior could result in sexual assault. Let's stop the binge drinking."