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Leaders discuss history of sexual harassment at NPS

The National Park Service has been aware of bullying and sexual harassment among its top employees for decades, according to a Montana senator, and now is time to demand “rigorous accountability.”

The National Park Service has been aware of bullying and sexual harassment among its top employees for decades, according to a Montana senator, and now is time to demand “rigorous accountability.”

The agency in recent years has experienced an increase of sexual harassment and hostile work environment cases, including investigations specifically at Yellowstone and Yosemite parks, where credible evidence was found.

A June 7 hearing, “Moving into a Second Century of Service: Working to Improve the National Park Service Workplace Environment,” sought to examine concrete steps the agency is taking to address these reported behaviors.

A report by the Department of Interior’s inspector general found “unwelcome conduct” toward female workers at national parks.

“[W]hat I have learned about the workplace environment at the National Park Service is entirely unworthy of that ideal” of what makes America a great and unique country, Sen. Steve Daines said in opening testimony, noting that last year marked NPS’ centennial anniversary.

“The centennial was more than just a celebration, it had a goal—to create the next generation of National Park visitors, supporters and advocates that look like America…But marring the successes of the centennial that same year was the growing number of Park Service employee complaints about a workplace culture where bullying is rampant, sexual harassment goes unaddressed, complaints leading to retribution, and top employees facing no accountability at some of our most high-profile parks…”

Acting NPS Director Michael Reynolds testified that the agency has already set an “ambitious agenda” to restore the culture of transparency, respect, and accountability back into the organization.

He noted a partnership with the Defense Department aimed at developing effective actions to address the problem as well as employee training programs and resource groups.

“We are pursuing proactive strategies on multiple fronts. First, we are examining the breadth and depth of the problems. Second, we are encouraging employees to consult with a newly established Ombuds Office if they encounter workplace problems. Third, we are improving training programs aimed at recognizing and addressing harassment. Fourth, we are seeking input from employee resource groups. Fifth, we are building stronger procedures for reporting, investigating, tracking, and resolving work environment issues. And sixth, we are acting as quickly as possible when new cases are brought to our attention.”

The agency also created a workplace survey to get a better understanding of employees’ experiences with  harassment in the workplace. The results are expected to be completed by the end of the summer. A separate survey for summer seasonal employees will go out next month.

“I believe that the steps we are taking will help us not only address the problems our organization has with harassment, but they will also improve our workplace in more fundamental ways,” Reynolds testified, adding, “We need our front line supervisors and other park and program leaders to really listen and understand what is happening in their parks and workplaces, and we need to give them tools to respond to sexual harassment, bullying, and other forms of harassment.”

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