Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rolled out a plan on Friday for cracking down on sexual harassment and gender discrimination within the National Park Service, after a survey commissioned by the agency found that nearly 39 percent of NPS employees said they have been harassed in the past year.
The initiative promises to ramp up the agency’s ability to investigate harassment claims and increase accountability for employees by expanding the definition of harassing behavior beyond the current workplace standards.
“From day one, I made it clear that I have zero tolerance for harassment in the workplace, and I directed leadership in the National Park Service to move rapidly to improve accountability and transparency,” Zinke said in a statement. “Employees deserve better, and we will ensure that leadership at every level of the National Park Service is held accountable for ensuring that harassment claims are investigated, and appropriate discipline results when the evidence supports it.”
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Zinke’s crackdown comes after survey conducted by the CRI Group on behalf of NPS found that 10.4 percent of employees said they had experienced sexual harassment in the last year, 19.3 percent said they faced gender discrimination, and roughly 1 percent said they were sexually assaulted. Overall, 38.7 percent of employees said they had experienced harassment based on sex, age, race, religion or ability within the last 12 months.
The survey ran from Jan. 9 to March 5 and included almost half of the NPS workforce. The results highlighted a history of harassment at Interior that dates to well before Zinke took the reins of the agency.
In addition to broadening the definition of what constitutes harassment, NPS will also take steps to boost prevention efforts throughout the organization through bystander training and civil treatment programs for leaders. The agency also added 10 people to its employee relations team and four to its ethics team to make the harassment investigation and resolution processes more efficient.
Officials said they hope increasing the department’s capacity to handle allegations will make employees more comfortable reporting when something is wrong. The survey found that about 75 percent of employees who experienced harassment didn’t formally report the behavior, with the vast majority saying they didn’t trust the process or thought nothing would happen if they came forward.
Zinke has condemned sexual harassment at the agency since his Senate confirmation hearing, where he said he would instate a “zero-tolerance” policy on sexual assault. During Zinke’s tenure as secretary, one high-level Interior official has already stepped down amid sexual assault allegations.
Sexual harassment isn’t just a problem at Interior. Nearly 20 percent of women working for the federal government say they’ve been sexually harassed in the workplace within the last two years, the Merit Systems Protection Board has found. But even that’s an improvement from 1994, when the percentage stood at 44 percent.