- Region 5 is equivalent to the rest of the Forest Service
- The problem is more or less the same across land management agencies
- In the Obama administration, political leaders were responsible for the different reactions (the difference between Vilsack and Jewell)
We have been reporting egregious incidents of sexual harassment, work place violence, discrimination, and reprisal to Secretary Vilsack since 2009 to no avail. Forest Service investigations invariably are turned against the employee reporting incidents. Reprisal is swift and severe. There are very few instances of accountability for the perpetrator. In fact, perpetrators often receive what we call “disciplinary promotions.” Before any cultural change can occur, the agency must acknowledge the scope of the problem and be willing to make a good faith effort to address it. USDA and Forest Service have been unwilling to do this despite mountains of evidence of harassment, discrimination and reprisal against women, people of color, and people with disabilities
For this series of posts, I’d like to focus on sexual harassment alone rather than the broader world of discrimination.
It is important to point out that Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Congressman Peter DeFazio, and Congressman Raul M. Grijalva wrote a letter to USDA Inspector General Phyllis Fong in November 19, 2014. They were highly concerned about the sexual harassment, attempted sexual assaults, gender discrimination, and whistleblower retaliation against women in Region 5 of the Forest Service. They asked for an investigation. As of this date, no investigation has occurred.
There are two clear indicators that the USDA and Forest Service are unwilling to acknowledge the pervasive and endemic discrimination against women and minorities. First, the comments made this year by Chief Tidwell are indicative that the Forest Service has no true intention of preventing and eliminating the discrimination against female employees. After the Huffington Post article on the Grand Canyon and Region 5 women was published this past summer, Chief Tidwell sent an email to all Forest Service employees, referring to it and telling the employees that the incidents were, “older allegations.”
Then, less than a week ago, Chief Tidwell had an all employee “Webinar” meeting. He referred to the recent Washington Post article and this Hearing, again stating that our claims are, “older allegations.” These public comments are Chief Tidwell’s continuing attempts to minimize the serious civil rights incidents that he is fully aware of, and to undermine our efforts to have them acknowledged and addressed. Yes, some of the incidents occurred awhile ago, but he failed to state that these employees are still being harassed and are still in the EEOC system because of continued reprisal and the agency’s absolute refusal to settle EEO complaints.
I recommend reading all the testimony. I wonder what Secretary Jewell did and how successful that was?
While there is much room for improvement in her response to the issues, I commend Secretary Jewell’s quick call for an investigation, the investigator’s professional interviews and data gathering, the transparency of the process and results, and Secretary Jewell’s decision to open up the investigation across the Park Service.
Maybe all the FS needs to do is emulate that? How could we find out how well it worked?
I also took a look at the military to see if they’d figured it out. Apparently they have not, even in terms of assaults, according to this and this story. Despite the fact that they (have an entire system set up to deal with them that looks much more sophisticated than the FS or USDA, here.
If I were Chief, I would get a team led by a strong advocate with high visibility and access, possibly the Associate Chief. I would get groups of victims, supervisors of harassers, and the frontline Employee Relations, EEO, and HR people together and listen carefully to what they had to say about how to stop this. What would you do? Feel free to share your own stories, and what you think might have helped. Also, if you would like to write something longer about your ideas, email it to me and I will post it.