Zinke promises ‘zero tolerance' after 35% of Interior employees report harassment

Zinke promises ‘zero tolerance' after 35% of Interior employees report harassment
© Greg Nash

A survey conducted for the Interior Department found that 35 percent of its employees say they were harassed or discriminated against in the last year.

The department-wide findings come on the heels of a National Park Service-specific report released in October, which found that 38 percent of that agency’s employees have been harassed or discriminated against.

The survey results are spurring leaders at the department that oversees about a fifth of the nation’s land to try to crack down on the causes of harassment. Department leadership claims their aggressive actions to change the culture are a shift from the previous administration.

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“All employees have the right to work in a safe and harassment-free environment,” Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE said in a statement on Thursday.

“I've already fired a number of predators who other administrations were too afraid to remove or just turned a blind eye to," he said, placing blame on former President Obama's administration for the current culture. "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 most common form of harassment was age-related, with 20.5 percent of employees reporting it. Another 16.5 percent said they experienced gender-based harassment, while 9.3 percent said they were harassed because of their race or ethnicity and 8 percent suffered from sexual harassment.

Employee relations issues are often amplified at Interior’s agencies due to longstanding cultural structures, remote workplaces and similar unique circumstances.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt also blamed the Obama administration for not taking care of the problem.

“The previous administration failed to aggressively address these problems and it shows,” he said in a statement. “The culture across the department will change.”

Bernhardt asked each bureau within the department to submit plans within 45 days to address the findings, Interior said.

The department said it has already issued a new Park Service-specific anti-harassment policy and is working on a similar department-wide one.

It is training employees on how to investigate allegations of harassment or discrimination and updating internal websites with resources on the issues, among other actions, it said.