Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has fired four senior officials at the Department of the Interior (DOI) for “inappropriate behavior” related to harassment and intimidation, the secretary announced in a Thursday video.
The video was released just hours after the DOI published a report revealing 35 percent of department employees had experienced harassment or discrimination of some kind over the past year. An October report revealed that an even higher percentage of employees at the National Parks Service (NPS), an agency under DOI control, were similarly victimized in the last 12 months.
“It’s time to acknowledge that we have a problem. Unfortunately, the survey shows that harassment, discrimination and intimidation have been a common practice at Interior,” Zinke said. “A culture that tolerates such behavior tarnishes our noble mission of stewardship and breaches public trust.”
Zinke rolled out an “action plan” in October for NPS to combat workplace harassment. The plan includes strengthening policies, hiring more Employee Relations and Labor Relations staff and increasing harassment training. The secretary directed other department heads to develop similar plans after the DOI report was released Thursday.
“I am speaking today to make it clear that the culture of harassment and intimidation, which this administration has inherited, has come to an end,” Zinke said.
Allegations of widespread harassment circulated for months toward the end of the Obama administration. Inspector General reports detailed unresolved harassment cases at Grand Canyon National Park and De Soto National Memorial.
Former NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis took over the agency in 2009 after he was tapped for the position by former President Barack Obama.
“By almost any measure, Jon Jarvis is the worst Park Service Director within living memory,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Executive Director Jeff Ruch told Grand Canyon News after Jarvis resigned. “In a misguided quest for ‘relevancy,’ Jarvis repeatedly sold out the very values and resources at the core of the Park Service mission.”
At a hearing before Congress in June 2016, Jarvis was grilled by highly critical lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. GOP Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia made repeated calls for Jarvis to resign for ignoring harassment complaints in his agency and lying to then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about leveraging his position for a book deal.
Jewell told NPR in July 2016 she thought the NPS promulgated a “culture” of sexual harassment, according to The Washington Post.
“But I am proud of the fact that we are going to deal with it and deal with it immediately,” Jewell said.
Jarvis resigned from the NPS in January of 2017.
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