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Survey Shows Extent Of Harassment In Interior Department


Working in the wide open spaces managed by the Interior Department, whether your job is in a national park, riding the range managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, or counting ducks in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge, places you at higher odds than most other Interior employees of being harassed in one form or another.

Overall, if you work in the Interior Department, the odds that you'll be a victim of harassment are better than one in three, according to results of a survey given to department employees this year and released Thursday. It's a sordid portrait of the agency that employs some 70,000 workers, one that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has vowed to reverse.

“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for any type of workplace harassment, and I have directed leadership across the entire department to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency with regard to this absolutely intolerable behavior,” said Secretary Zinke in a release accompanying the survey results. “All employees have the right to work in a safe and harassment-free environment. I've already fired a number of predators who other administrations were too afraid to remove or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we don't protect predators. When I say ‘zero tolerance’ I mean that these people will be held accountable for their abhorrent actions.”

The Interior secretary released the survey's results specific to the National Park Service in October. They showed that nearly 40 percent of the Park Service workforce has been the victim of sexual harassment, intimidation, or discrimination.

Survey results from across the Interior Department's 15 agencies point to the Park Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Indian Affairs as reporting the most workplace harassment/abuse issues involving gender, age, race/ethnicity, religion, disability, or sex.

Looking at harassment/abuse issues of all types overall, 18,550 Park Service employees reported some form during 2016, or nearly one-third of the 61,020 complaints received from throughout the Interior Department workforce. BLM employees reported 9,305 instances, the Fish and Wildlife Servide 8,846, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs 4,086.

Employees connected to the Office of the Secretary reported 3,198 instances. Reporting the fewest complaints, 265, was Interior's Office of Inspector General.

The anonymous survey was sent to all Interior employees between January 9 to March 5 of this year and sought information for incidents occurring during the prior 12 months. The survey was completed by 28,203 employees, or 44 percent of the Interior Department workforce.

Results showed that 20.5 percent of employees experienced age-related harassment, 16.5 percent experienced harassment because of their gender, 9.3 percent because of their race or ethnicity, and 8 percent experienced sexual harassment. Other forms of harassment that were surveyed were religion (7.1 percent), disability (6.1 percent) and sexual orientation (3.6 percent). 0.74 percent of respondents experienced a sexual assault.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Thursday directed each of the 15 bureaus "to develop and submit a formal action plan within 45 days to address their specific survey results. Those plans, which will also be sent to the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget, will include a schedule for accomplishing those actions and a description of how they will assess success."

Additionally, future performance reviews for managers and supervisors across Interior will take into consideration how successful they are in addressing harassment in their ranks.

What perhaps is striking about the survey results from the Park Service is the complaints came from 2016 and show continuing abhorrent behavior long after national attention came to an investigation depicting a long-running and sordid chapter of sexual harassment within Grand Canyon National Park, as well as after former Park Service Director Jon Jarvis pledged his agency would take a zero tolerance approach to such matters. Congress held hearings into the matter, some called for Director Jarvis to resign, and the Park Service said it would root out the perpetrators.

An investigation by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General in 2015 discovered that for roughly 15 years life deep in the Inner Gorge of Grand Canyon at times reflected rowdy, sexually charged scenes from a frat party for some Park Service employees, with male employees pawing and propositioning female workers, some of who at times exhibited their own risqué behavior.

Grand Canyon isn't the only unit of the National Park System with misconduct issues. Yellowstone National Park, Canaveral National Seashore, DeSoto National Memorial, and Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area also have reported issues.

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Will anyone investigate harrassment of park superintendents by Ryan Zinke as in the recently reported scolding of the superintendent of Joshua Tree for daring to speak about climate change?

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