The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has had to create a whistleblower program in which employees of the National Parks Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other DOI agencies can report allegations of discrimination and harassment without risking their jobs. Why? A series of scandals has occurred at our national parks, primarily involving pervasive sexual harassment.
According to the Courthouse News Service, major scandals have occurred at Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Glacier national parks. Moreover, they were not handled well by the agencies. Here’s a short summary of the problems:
A recently released report found credible evidence of a pervasive hostile work environment in the maintenance division. The maintenance supervisor “tolerated and even fostered by a men’s club environment” between 2011 and 2015. He was also accused of allowing employees to make personal purchases on his government credit card.
In a separate case, Yellowstone’s chief ranger was found to be renting out park housing to visitors. Worse, according to the deputy inspector general of the Department of Interior, when his wrongdoing was discovered, the agency transferred him and promoted him to superintendent.
An investigation found 12 separate, unrelated allegations of a hostile work environment, discrimination, harassment and favoritism against a senior official. While the investigators ultimately found no evidence to show the man had based management decisions on favoritism or unlawful bias, his management style was clearly perceived as inappropriate.
Here investigators found a “pattern and practice of sexual harassment at Grand Canyon National Park provided a glaring example of Park Service management failing to take proper action when employees reported wrongdoing,” said the DOI’s deputy inspector general in congressional testimony.
In May 2016, a 67-year-old male U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee pled guilty to abusive sexual contact with a co-worker at Glacier National Park. He was sentenced to six months jail and ordered to pay $22,000 in restitution.
Unfortunately, according to the DOI deputy inspector general, “There is a pervasive perception by many employees in some bureaus that contacting the OIG to report wrongdoing places them in jeopardy of retaliation. We often learn that management makes more effort to identify the source of a complaint than to explore whether the complaint has merit.”