Harassment, Discrimination Experienced By 38 Percent of NPS Employees

October 13, 2017
Laurel Morales
In 2014 a group of whistleblowers reported abuse and retaliation at the Grand Canyon. That led to more women coming forward at other parks.

Thirty-eight percent of National Park Service employees experienced harassment or discrimination on the job over the last year preceding an agency-wide survey, according to results released Oct. 13 at the Grand Canyon.

MORE: National Park Service Takes Steps To Change Culture Of Harassment

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.

In 2014 a group of whistleblowers reported abuse and retaliation at the Grand Canyon. That led to more individuals coming forward at other parks and other agencies.

Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Christine Lehnertz said seven people resigned in lieu of disciplinary action and two have been fired in the last 18 months.

“We’re implementing a zero tolerance program,” Lehnertz said. “That means that we train, we track and we terminate... If we find a predator in our workforce, we will terminate that person from the NPS.”

Lehnertz replaced park superintendent Dave Uberuaga who was forced to retire after a 2016 Office of Inspector General report revealed a longstanding culture of harassment. The park also shut down the river district. But Lehnertz said they found complaints of harassment in other divisions at the park as well.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spoke to staff at the Grand Canyon about the survey results and his plan to combat harassment. The agency plans to standardize and strengthen the sexual harassment policy, hire more people to investigate complaints and expand training. The Park Service also created an ombudsman office to hear employee complaints.

One problem that came up in the investigation is how difficult it is to fire park staff.

“I think we do need to give our front line superintendents more authority to take immediate action,” Zinke said. “It’s just the right thing to do so we are going to ask Congress for help on that.”

Zinke said training is important. But he said, “without action, training is ineffective.” The survey showed most employees did not file complaints because they thought nothing would be done.

“What we heard (was) a lot of frustration from the employees,” Zinke said. “There just was no action being taken. Individuals were transferred, nothing was documented in their records. Bottom line is we need to take action on harassment. And that is clearly what we intend to do.”

Zinke alone fired four Interior Department employees who were abusive or acted improperly in the last few weeks.