Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sent a warning to 70,000 agency employees last week to “comply with the ethical responsibilities expected of all Federal employees” and said she is troubled by reports of sexual harassment in the National Park Service.
The unusual email came a day after Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis was lambasted by Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill for his response to allegations of sexual harassment at two parks. Lawmakers accused Jarvis — who has been embroiled in his own ethics scandal — of a slow response to what they called a culture of harassment and said they suspect the problem is widespread.
Jewell wrote that “systematically addressing sexual harassment at the Interior Department” is a “priority.”
“I am particularly troubled by reports of sexual harassment and mistreatment of people in the workplace. As a Department, we have no tolerance for this type of conduct, which is poisonous to the workplace, demeaning and damaging to the affected individuals, and completely out of line with our values. I have spoken with senior Department and Bureau leadership about ways to better understand the scope of this problem within the Department.”
The email, obtained by The Washington Post, also refers to other misconduct and lapses in judgment disclosed by the Interior Department’s watchdog.
In a report released last week, Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall found that a researcher at the U.S. Geological Survey committed scientific misconduct and data manipulation that affected two dozen research projects worth more than $100 million.
But the Park Service’s sexual harassment cases have drawn the most attention from the public.
A high-profile investigation by Kendall’s office released in January documented evidence of a long-term pattern of harassment and a hostile work environment at the Grand Canyon, where boatmen and a supervisor pressured female colleagues for sex on long river trips, bullied them, then retaliated against some who rejected their advances or reported the problems, investigators found.
The report from last week disclosed that the chief park ranger at Canaveral National Seashore in central Florida was found to have sexually harassed women on his staff in three substantiated cases in less than two years. The ranger is still working at the park, although not in a law enforcement job, prompting criticism from lawmakers that Jarvis should be pursuing discipline more aggressively.
“While the vast majority of the Department’s 70,000 employees work hard and play by the rules,” Jewell wrote, “such lapses in judgment or outright misconduct reflect poorly on the Department as a whole, divert resources from our important missions, and are not acceptable.”
She urged employees to report “ethical violations and misconduct” and warned them that retaliating against whistleblowers who bring problems to light is “expressly prohibited by the law.”
The Interior Department is one of the largest federal agencies and includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management.
The Park Service is conducting an anonymous survey of all 22,000 full-time, seasonal and temporary employees across the country to gauge their perception of harassment and whether it is widespread.
The inspector general found last year that Jarvis broke the rules when he failed to seek permission from the Interior Department’s ethics office to write a book for a publisher that does business with the agency.