Interior Watchdog Details Agency's Crackdown On Sexual Harassment

Oct 31, 2019
Originally published on October 31, 2019 6:36 am

The Interior Department’s chief watchdog updated Congress Wednesday on the agency’s efforts to curb a long-term pattern of sexual harassment. 

Interior Inspector General Mark Greenblatt explained that his office has opened 22 sexual harassment investigations since 2016, which have led to the removal, resignation or retirement of 16 employees within the Interior Department.

“We have uncovered sexual misconduct in parks as large as Yellowstone, and as small as Canaveral National Seashore; in a remote Bureau of Indian Affairs office and at the DOI headquarters; in locations stretching across the country from Georgia to Oregon; and involving behavior ranging from disturbing, inappropriate touching to outright sexual assault,” Greenblatt said in his prepared testimony to the U.S. House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. 

As The Bulletin reports, a Fish and Wildlife Service program administrator who oversaw endangered species policy for Washington state was sentenced Tuesday to a month in jail for sexually assaulting and tormenting a female co-worker.

Greenblatt addressed that incident during Wednesday’s hearing, saying, “that included laying on top of her at one point, and this was totally inappropriate in every way.”

Greenblatt said the Interior Department has taken meaningful steps towards addressing the culture of sexual harassment. 

Acting Assistant Interior Secretary Susan Combs also testified, noting survey results showing that the percentage of employees who reported experiencing some form of harassment in the 12 months preceding the survey dropped from 35% in 2017 to 18% in 2019.

Combs also argued the recent controversial decision to relocate some top Bureau of Land Management employees to the West will help change the agency’s culture.

“Getting decision makers out into the field where they can take hold of things immediately is obviously desirable and it does make a difference,” Combs said. 

Democratic lawmakers pushed back, saying that relocation is already hurting morale at the agency and could lead to more problems.

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