Ryan Zinke testifies at a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.

Ryan Zinke testifies at a confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Sexual Harassment Allegations at Interior Arise Early in Zinke's Tenure

IG probe of security official prompts call for faster firings.

Tim Lynn, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security, has admitted that he likes to hug his employees. This and other behavior that has made female employees uncomfortable landed him as the subject of an inspector general report published last week; it also has put him on the radar of newly arrived Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Lynn’s behavior is under review by the department’s acting principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, and Zinke, The Washington Post reported, on his first day sent a departmentwide email saying, “I expect us to do better” on ethics. The new Interior chief cited “lapses in judgment by a few employees.” 

Lynn, a Senior Executive Service member who formerly worked in law enforcement with the Forest Service and Secret Service, manages law enforcement liaison work with other agencies.

His conduct came to the watchdog’s attention last August, when an employee said he had “hugged her, touched her and made comments that caused her to feel uncomfortable,” the IG stated. “She also alleged that after she reported Lynn’s unwanted behavior to his supervisor, Lynn embarrassed her in front of her coworkers and criticized her work to a colleague, actions she viewed as retaliation.”

Eventually five other female employees alleged unprofessional behavior by Lynn, including making flirtatious comments and sending highly personal text messages.

One complainant described his alleged reaction to her looking at a Victoria’s Secret webpage. “Lynn came into her office once when she was alone and startled her,” the report said. “He laughed at her reaction, then put his head on her shoulder and rubbed her hair. Lynn then sat down and asked her how she was doing while her coworkers were away. When she said she was fine, he said: ‘Well, I know you’re just over here looking at porn, I know you.’ She said she denied his allegation and he replied: ‘I know you are into porn and are in here looking at it.’ ”

Another time, the complainant reportedly went into Lynn’s office, and he said, “I’m going to tell you something very, very private.” He then showed her a Facebook photograph of a woman he said was his dental hygienist and told her that his hygienist wanted him to be her “sugar daddy.” On another occasion, after she mentioned that she would have roommates for the summer, he allegedly suggested she come stay with him.

In his own interviews with investigators, Lynn denied many of the woman’s reported details. “He said that touching people was in his nature and he had not intended to make her uncomfortable,” the investigators wrote. “While we confirmed that after Lynn’s supervisor counseled him, he made a sarcastic remark to the employee during a meeting and expressed displeasure to a colleague about her performance, we found that he took no other significant actions against her.”

No one interviewed at Lynn’s previous agencies reported any problematic behavior.

After intervention by Harry Humbert, the deputy assistant secretary for public safety, resource protection and emergency services, the objectionable behavior appeared to have stopped, the IG report said. When presented with the case, the Justice Department’s Office of Public Integrity declined to pursue the matter further.

But Interior has a history of problems with alleged sexual harassment and the reaction on Capitol Hill was more of alarm. “This person should be fired and should have been some time ago,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Affairs Committee, told the Post. “This is a new administration. If you want to send the right message, show zero tolerance and fire these people. It’s inexcusable.”