President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Interior Department pledged during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday to eradicate harassment among his future employees, calling it a drag on morale.
Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., the Interior secretary-designate, promised to institute a “zero-tolerance” policy on issues of sexual assault. The National Park Service in particular has been plagued by accusations of widespread sexual misconduct, leading to multiple investigations and congressional hearings.
“I take issues of sexual assault harassment absolutely seriously,” Zinke said. He noted the problem at NPS, and said it is making it harder for the agency to recruit for previously prestigious jobs such as park rangers.
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Zinke had clearly done his homework in preparation for the hearing, highlighting findings from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey that rangers' job satisfaction now ranks among the worst at Interior.
“Something is going on,” Zinke said. “Whether sexual harassment has an influence on it, whether they feel they don’t have the flexibility to make the decisions, whether it’s a lot of things. But I have to get to the bottom of it, because it is the front line.”
He added: “If morale is bad at the front line, it makes sure that mission success isn’t going to happen. And sexual harassment is part of what is killing morale, I believe.”
Zinke promised to tour various NPS outposts to listen to concerns, and to voice from leadership “from the top and from the bottom” that sexual harassment would not be acceptable. He called a culture that enables harassment “flat wrong” and promised to “stamp it out” as secretary.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., attempted to put the harassment issue in context with some of Trump’s more controversial comments, though Zinke stayed on message about his responsibilities at Interior.
The likely next Interior secretary is a strong advocate of federal land control, and promised to never sell or transfer any public land. That position is in contrast with most Republicans, who included in their party platform last year the backing of policies to transfer federal land to states or the private sector. The push to de-federalize lands in the western United States has led to several high-profile conflicts between conservative groups and federal agencies.
“I am absolutely against transfer and sale of public lands,” Zinke said. “I can’t be more clear.”
Zinke also advocated allowing energy development on federally controlled land, such as drilling and mining.