NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) -- A survey of National Park Service employees
found widespread complaints of harassment and discrimination in the
workplace, and top officials vowed to address the problems that have
tarnished the agency’s image.
investigators have uncovered problems at many of the nation’s premier parks,
including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Canaveral National Seashore and Florida’s
De Soso National Memorial. A sexual harassment scandal at the Grand Canyon
forced the retirement of the park superintendent in May 2016 and led to the
abolishment of the river district.
Ryan Zinke told employees during a visit to the Grand Canyon on Friday that
he would hold people accountable for behavior that has killed morale within
the Park Service. He urged employees to report misconduct and keep going up
the chain of command if their complaints go unanswered.
“A culture that
tolerates harassment and discrimination is simply unacceptable to this
administration, and we’re going to take action,” he said.
department, nearly two of five Park Service employees surveyed this year had
experienced some sort of harassment or discrimination over a 12-month
period. More than 10 percent of employees were sexually harassed. The survey
also looked at discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity religion and
disability. About 19 percent of employees reported gender harassment. Less
than 1 percent reported sexual assault.
Kate Watters, one
of 13 people who reported sexual harassment in the Grand Canyon’s now former
river district in 2014, said change will come only with persistence. The
complaint outlined how male workers preyed on female colleagues, demanded
sex and retaliated against women who refused. The group said its efforts to
get the Grand Canyon’s chain of command to respond went nowhere, so they
appealed to then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Watters left the
Grand Canyon in 2007 and said she doesn’t understand the difficulty in
enacting positive change. She said she has spoken to current Superintendent
Chris Lehnertz and offered feedback on training to prevent sexual
“I don’t like to
work in an environment like that where a lot of people were running scared
constantly and nobody would listen to people who just want to do their
jobs,” she said.
Lehnertz said the
Park Service has learned the trauma is real and must be addressed to heal.
“The trauma changed lives, it changed families, it changed careers,” she
Acting Park Service
Director Mike Reynolds apologized Friday to employees who had been victims
of misconduct, saying the agency will do more to support them. His and
Zinke’s remarks were broadcast to Park Service employees across the country.
Reynolds outlined a
series of reforms, including standardizing and strengthening sexual
harassment policies, hiring more people to investigate complaints, expanding
training and empowering employees through resource groups. The Park Service
also created an ombudsman office to hear employee complaints.
"The survey makes
it clear that NPS has a significant problem with harassment,” he said. “A
culture that enables harassment and hostile workplace behavior that’s
infiltrated the organization needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” he
employee Brenda Karl, who was at Friday’s meeting, said she appreciated the
frank and honest conversation officials had with the employees.
“I will say
employees of today also want results,” she said “When management speaks to
pillars they’re looking for in leadership, employees want that, too.”
The Park Service
has grappled with sexual harassment since at least 1999, when then-Director
Robert Stanton appointed a task force focused on problems faced by women in
law enforcement. The task force surveyed female employees and found 52
percent of them had experienced sexual harassment while working for the Park
About half of the
Park Service permanent employees participated in the latest survey. Nearly
three-quarters of those surveyed said they did not file a report or
complaint over misconduct. Of those who did, about 46 percent thought it
would go nowhere, and a third of them reported mistrust in the process.