This PBS News Hour is worth reading in its entirety.
The U.S. Forest Service is implementing what it’s calling a 30-day action plan to address harassment, sexual misconduct, and retaliation in the agency.
The changes come weeks after a PBS NewsHour investigation into these issues, especially in the agency’s firefighting ranks, along with the departure of Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke amid allegations of his own sexual misconduct.
Interim chief Vicki Christiansen announced the plan on an all-staff call last week, and in an email to staff Wednesday. Recent news reports, she said, had “focused a bright light on a problem the agency has been combating for years” and “made it painfully clear that the policies prohibiting such behaviors are not enough.”
A transcript of the call was given to the PBS NewsHour by two Forest Service employees.
Additionally, Lago announced there would be an agency-wide workplace survey to look at employee perceptions of sexual and non-sexual harassment. In January, the Forest Service released a survey of harassment in the agency, but it looked only at Region 5, or the state of California, an area whose issues were the focus of a congressional hearing in December 2016. The Forest Service has never done a national survey of the problem, as the National Park Service did after similar issues were reported in its agency in 2016.
Lago also announced the creation of a heat map tool to identify particular problem areas, an employee code of conduct called “This Is Who We Are,” and standardized harassment trainings for employees.”
I will post the transcript on this blog in another post.
A couple of points: I think the survey on sexual and non-sexual harassment is good because plenty of people feel harassed for various reasons and it needs to be explored in depth. I also think the heat map tool would be great at helping to understand patterns and causes. I’m a little surprised at the assumptions that folks are making that these approaches are not enough and won’t work, since they have not yet been tried. One commenter on the News Hour story didn’t think a heat map would be useful.
Retired Forest Service firefighter Jonel Wagoner, who joined the Forest Service in the 1980s and alleged decades of harassment based on her gender, said she was skeptical of the “soundbites and fed-speak” she heard on the call.
“More training, more promises to hold people accountable … None of that has helped to change the culture to date,” Wagoner wrote in an email. She and other longtime employees recounted years of harassment and retaliation in an interview with the NewsHour.
f I were Chief, I would get retired Employee Relations folks in a room and ask them what they think would work. For example, I wonder if centralizing HR contributed to a de-emphasis on working on tough personnel problems on districts and forests. I know when I filed a grievance, being able to go down the hall to those folks (in the RO) made a big difference. I also wonder whether there should be a more formal approach to reach out to retirees and discuss our experiences, and what worked and didn’t. But it’s ultimately up to the people working today to figure this out and make it happen.
Here’s a link to the information on the efforts they were developing last July.