Energy & Environment

Officials target harassment, discrimination in Park Service

An anonymous survey of National Park Service (NPS) employees found that 38.7 percent have experienced some form of harassment, discrimination or sexual assault on the job in the last year, the agency said Friday.

That total includes 10.4 percent who reported sexual harassment, 19.3 percent who reported gender harassment and 0.95 percent who were sexually assaulted, along with employees who reported other forms of harassment and discrimination that include sexual orientation and race.

Furthermore, three-quarters of the alleged victims did not file formal reports, frequently because they said they did not think any good would come of it or they didn’t trust the process.

{mosads}The Interior Department, of which the Park Service is a part, released the data Friday as it rolled out a new initiative aimed at combating harassment, sexual assault and other misconduct among its 21,000 employees at more than 400 park units, many in very remote areas.

The agency has been under fire in recent years as more and more reports and investigations have come out about widespread misconduct at numerous parks, such as the Grand Canyon National Park and Canaveral National Seashore in Florida.

That’s led to bipartisan calls for the agency to take the problem more seriously, punish offenders more effectively and provide more support to victims.

“The results of the survey are sobering,” Acting Park Service Director Michael Reynolds told reporters Friday from the Grand Canyon, where he and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held an agency-wide meeting on the report and initiative.

“The survey makes it clear that NPS has a significant problem with harassment. A culture that enables harassment and hostile workplace behavior has infiltrated our organization,” Reynolds said.

“To all of the employees and the American people who have been affected by their harassment, and on behalf of the leadership of the National Park Service, I want to apologize.”

The initiative includes a new system for investigating harassment allegations and a broader definition of the activities that will be investigated.

It’s putting 14 more workers into the employee relations and ethics staff to deal with harassment complaints, expanding training to prevent harassment and working to beef up internal support mechanisms for victims.

“A culture that accepts sexual harassment is unacceptable to me and to the president,” Zinke told reporters.

“We’re going to root out this virus and begin by putting a new culture forward, a culture that embraces of thought, embraces teamwork, a culture that embraces the best of the Park Service values in understanding how important it is to be the stewards of our greatest treasures.

Intimidated, harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated.”

Reynolds has fired a handful of employees recently for harassment or related misconduct. Zinke said he fired four employees in recent weeks across Interior agencies for harassment, and some of the firings went against legal advice.

Lawmakers said the survey report is alarming.

“I am deeply disturbed by this report, which details an unacceptable culture of sexual harassment and hostile work environments at the National Park Service,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee subpanel with responsibility for Interior. “The incidents described in the report, and the lack of action to address them, should concern all of us.”

“As with sexual assault in the military and other large hierarchical organizations, the National Park Service must take immediate steps to address this problem,” said Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.), who led a congressional effort to push the Park Service to conduct the study.

This story was updated at 4:10 p.m.

Tags Harassment National Park Service Ryan Zinke Workplace harassment

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