Watchdog: Park Service chief made gesture ‘not appropriate for work’

Watchdog: Park Service chief made gesture ‘not appropriate for work’
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The head of the National Park Service (NPS) acknowledged to the Interior Department’s watchdog agency that he told a story and made a gesture that were inappropriate in an office hallway.

But in a brief report issued Thursday, Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) stopped short of labeling P. Daniel Smith’s actions “sexual harassment,” since the only witness to it said he was not offended and investigators found no other witnesses that the gesture was intended to be sexual.

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An anonymous employee told the OIG that she saw Smith in January in a hallway at NPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., and that he “grabbed his crotch and his penis and acted out as though he was urinating on the wall.” The Washington Post first reported about the allegation.

The OIG said Smith and another NPS staffer recalled the agency chief telling a story in a hallway, “but they denied that Smith touched himself obscenely or used any vulgar language.”

“Smith acknowledged he gestured with his hands to simulate urinating while telling a story and stated that in hindsight the story and the gesture were not appropriate for work,” the report said.

The OIG said it sent a full report on its probe to an aide to Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight 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 MORE.

Zinke’s office did not return a request for comment.

Earlier in June, Smith sent an agency-wide email, obtained by The Hill, acknowledging that he acted inappropriately but denying that it amounted to sexual harassment.

“I was overheard recounting an experience in Alaska while having a hallway conversation in the offices,” he wrote.

“I hope that my mistake and this apology are a lesson for leaders and employees at every level of the National Park Service. Workplace culture is our shared responsibility. We must conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects the great pride we all have for the extraordinary parks and programs we represent.”

The NPS and other Interior agencies have been grappling recently with a culture of sexual harassment and assault among agency staff.

Nearly 40 percent of NPS workers reported in a survey last year experiencing sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. Zinke has put in place a “zero tolerance” policy for harassment and discrimination and fired at least four workers accused of inappropriate behavior.

Smith’s title is deputy director, though he is the highest-ranking official at the NPS and exercises much of the authority that the director would. President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he will 'temporarily hold off' on declaring Mexican drug cartels as terror organization House Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Artist behind gold toilet offered to Trump sells banana duct-taped to a wall for 0,000 MORE has not nominated a candidate for director, a position that would require Senate confirmation.