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More than 1,500 Interior employees removed or reprimanded for harassment, misconduct

More than 1,500 Interior employees removed or reprimanded for harassment, misconduct
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The Interior Department fired, suspended or reprimanded more than 1,500 employees for harassment or misconduct between 2017 and 2018, according to an internal email obtained by The Hill.

The actions are part of the department’s yearlong effort to enforce greater accountability, Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt told employees in a staff-wide email Wednesday.

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The email, sent with the subject line “A Situational Update,” informed staff that new changes to address workplace concerns included developing action plans to curtail inappropriate behavior and expanding an ethics program within the agency.

“From day one, [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and I have been committed to leaving the Department in better shape than we found it; this includes addressing employee misconduct and harassment and improving our ethics program,” Bernhardt wrote in the email.

In April, the department released its first comprehensive policy on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassing Conduct.

Bernhardt, in the email, urged staff to continue to come forward with any concerns.

“Despite these efforts, we can only take action when we are aware of misconduct or unethical behavior. For this to happen, employees have to be willing to come forward. I want you to know that your leadership is listening, and we are committed to holding individuals accountable when they have failed in their duties and obligations,” he wrote.

Zinke has long blamed the Obama administration for failing to react to harassment concerns within the Interior Department, which includes the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.

Last December a survey conducted by the Interior Department found that 35 percent of its workers were either harassed or discriminated against at work in the previous 12 months.

When such harassment was reported, the survey found, no action was taken or the individuals were encouraged to drop the issue about 40 percent of the time.

Earlier in October, Interior announced a plan to fight rampant sexual harassment within the National Park Service. Nearly 40 percent of Park Service employees reported having been harassed in some way in the previous 12 months, according to the agency.

“All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and harassment-free. I've removed a number of people who were abusive or acted improperly that other administrations were too afraid to or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we’re going to hold people accountable,” Zinke said in a statement at the time.