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Interior Secretary Promises To Root Out Sexual Harassment, Intimidation, Bullying Across National Park Service


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pledged Friday to root out harassment across the National Park Service/NPS

Faced with a survey showing that nearly 40 percent of the National Park Service workforce has been the victim of sexual harassment, intimidation, or discrimination, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday promised immediate and lasting reform, saying "there’s an expectation that not only can (the Park Service) be the greatest stewards of our lands, but also they should be the greatest stewards of our values."

According to a survey of workforce behavior launched last year, 38.7 percent of the Park Service respondents complained about some form of harassment. Slightly more than 19 percent reported gender harassment, and 10.4 percent reported sexual harassment.

What perhaps is striking about the survey results is they were compiled in the past 12 months 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.

Interior Secretary Zinke, speaking Friday afternoon to reporters during a conference call from the Grand Canyon after he discussed the survey results with park employees, said that approach wasn't taken.

"In the past, zero tolerance has been an empty phrase. Instead of taking real action against harassment, the National Park, some leadership, has fallen back and taken no action," he said. "Clearly, there has been sexual harassment, intimidation, retaliation within the Service, and that is not in keeping of the traditions of the fine Service itself.

“I can tell you, from the president and myself, that’s over. We’re going to root out this virus, and it begins with putting a new culture forward, a culture that embraces diversity of thought, embraces teamwork, a culture that embraces the best of the Park Service values and understanding how important it is of being the stewards of our greatest treasures."

Secretary Zinke's promise, though, was challenged by two Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Donald McEachin – the ranking member of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee who requested a congressional hearing on sexual harassment at the National Park Service (NPS) in June – released the following statement on today’s NPS survey in which 38 percent of employees report experiencing some form of sexual harassment.

“Dumping this news on a Friday afternoon, without any clear next steps, suggests this administration still isn’t taking this problem as seriously as it should," said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.). "Stopping sexual harassment will require changing the agency’s culture, which has survived through administrations of both political parties, and that won’t happen unless Secretary Zinke makes this a genuine priority. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that Secretary Zinke takes command of ending sexual harassment, and I stand ready to work with (House Natural Resources Committee) Chairman (Rob) Bishop (R-Utah) to hold a hearing on this employee survey and next steps from the Interior Department as soon as possible.”

“I have repeatedly asked Secretary Zinke, both in person and through written correspondence, to prioritize addressing the culture of sexual harassment that has permeated the NPS,” said Rep. Donald McEachin (D-Va). “This problem is far too serious and has gone on for far too long. We need long-term, systemic solutions. I urge Secretary Zinke to listen closely to the survey results and quickly implement changes that will eliminate all forms of sexual harassment in the NPS. I also implore Chairmen Bishop and (Rep. Bruce) Westerman to heed requests to hold congressional hearings to remedy this issue further.”

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

While then-Director Jarvis said he expected complaints of harassment to be investigated, and disciplinary action to be taken, there were instances where some individuals were simply transferred to other positions. Those instances were raised with Secretary Zinke on Friday by Grand Canyon employees.

"What we heard was a lot of frustration from the employees is that there just was no action being taken," the secretary told reporters. "Individuals were being transferred, nothing was documented in their records, they could be promoted and then come back. The bottom line is we need to take action on harassment, intimidation, and that is clearly what we intend to do.”

To that point, at least nine Park Service employees at Grand Canyon have either quit or retired rather than face discipline, and two were terminated, Grand Canyon Superintendent Chris Lehnertz said.

Acting-Park Service Director Mike Reynolds, also on the conference call, said he knew of at least four instances across the Park Service where employees were either terminated or opted to retire. 

"I have fired four across-the-board in recent weeks," Secretary Zinke added. "Many of the solicitors said I couldn’t do it, and I did it anyway because I think it’s an important part when it's credible, when the IG investigations exceed one inch. And this is intimidation, sexual harassment, abuse of a power over time. Action needed to be taken.”

While Mr. Reynolds outlined four steps the Park Service was taking to wipe out this behavior, including more investigative work and better training for supervisors and employees, the secretary made it clear that the workforce would either correct its behavior or look for jobs elsewhere.

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 issues.

How successul the administration will be remains to be seen. A similar problem more than two decades ago prompted the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board to note that, “(A)gencies should find ways to capitalize on what is already known about the most effective actions that can be taken to prevent and eliminate sexual harassment; that is, they should publicize penalties and encourage assertive actions on the part of employees who are targets of unwanted sexual attention.”

The nearly universal awareness of sexual harassment policies among members of the Federal workforce indicates that agencies have done a good job in getting the word out about their policies. Less is known among the workforce about what happens to people who harass others. Employees should be made aware of how the agency intends to discipline proven harassers. Victims should always be informed about what happened to their harassers, and penalties should be public enough to serve as examples to potential harassers that management’s prohibition of sexual harassment is more than lip service.

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"I can tell you, from the president and myself, that's over. We're going to root out this virus, and it begins with putting a new culture forward, a culture that embraces diversity of thought, embraces teamwork,"

Hmmmm.  Maybe a good place to work on a similar problem would be in the Oval Office, too.

From the President.. so, like, no more grabbing them by their nether bits, eh?


That is the level oif credibility and leadership in the WH. Why would Zinke think that by his fiat pronouncement things will improve. He may put a few heads on pikes, but unless the moral authority is reset above his paygrade, it is useless.

Don't hold your breath waiting for this "Immediate and lasting reform" promised by Secretary Zinke.  We've heard similar empty promises many times before.  Zinke's own continuing ethical lapses further diminish the liklihood of anything meaningful coming from this.

I listened to the broadcast of Zinke's presentation or press conference at Grand Canyon.  "Drink" every time he mentioned he was a SEAL would have been one heck of a drinking game...

I give Mike Reynolds and some of the employee questions some credit for broadening the issue from just sexual harassment to include other harassment & bullying, too.  As bad as sexual harassment has been in some places, it is only part of the problem.  And the "bystander training" might empower 3rd party employees to step up to stop these actions, without feeling that by doing so they would be crossing powerful folks and nothing would come of it anyway.  But then Zinke bragged about how even though the solicitors said he couldn't do it and would get sued, he fired folks.  WTF?  I want those folks fired, I want several other folks I know of who did similar or worse and only got transferred (cases that haven't made the news) fired.  But I want them fired via a legal process where they stay fired, not by a showboat process where in a couple of years they get their jobs back with back pay & promotions after the dust settles.  Firing folks when the department lawyers say you can't and making them sue (& win) kinda looks like macho bullying and intimidation from above, even when the first examples deserve to be fired.  I don't think that management style is going to fix the cultural problems among NPS employees.

I'd like to read reactions to the broadcast from NPS employees & retirees here, rather than arguements for or against the President.

I'm hoping that somehow the Harvey Weinstein mess helps.  At the moment it seems to be bringing nationwide attention to what is apparently an enormous problem.  I hope that with enough attention focused on prominent offenders, some real changes may follow.  

But, as with so many other problems, not much will change unless the problem is kept open and in the spotlight.  The more prominent the offenders, the more attention will be drawn to the problem.

That's why I believe trump's past actions should not be ignored.  I hope the women he molested will stand up and come forward again.  It should have happened with Clinton, but he was able to use his power to escape accountability.  That needs to be stopped. 

It could provide a great deal of help to women at all levels, from top Hollywood stars to the woman who cleans a company's restrooms.  Only if women at all levels know that no matter how powerful the man who causes their grief may be, he cannot, and will not, be able to use his power to escape responsibility for his acts.  (While at the same time, maintaining a system of justice that will not allow only an accusation unsupported by adequate evidence to destroy someone who has not actually been guilty.  It will require wisdom.)

Cynic, do you have information about a link or some other way those of us who are no longer in the NPS loop to find and listen to that broadcast?

I'd also like to see or at least listen to Secretary Zinke's broadcast.  I bet he referred to his controversial Navy Seal career about as often as Dennis Hopper said "Man" in one of his early biker movies.

Lee--  The announcement to NPS employees said that the recording and a transcript will eventually be posted to the Director's Webchat page on InsideNPS.  It may be a few weeks before they get posted.

Glad--  My over/under line is 5 times, but I was doing productive work while listening, so not paying complete attention the entire time.  [Zinke referred to the awesomeness of the NPS mission that we work for, although he somewhat took it as the mission of DOI, and he certainly didn't mention the second half of Mike Soukop's quote about the NPS mission.

Glad2bretired: I'd also like to see or at least listen to Secretary Zinke's broadcast.  I bet he referred to his controversial Navy Seal career about as often as Dennis Hopper said "Man" in one of his early biker movies.

I thought the hallmark of a special forces operator is that they generally won't brag about it.  Or at least those who do are generally considered to be doing something wrong as they're supposed to be silent professionals.  Here's the SEAL Creed:

My loyalty to Country and Team is beyond reproach. I humbly serve as a guardian to my fellow Americans always ready to defend those who are unable to defend themselves. I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions. I voluntarily accept the inherent hazards of my profession, placing the welfare and security of others before my own.

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