Steps to Fixing the Forest Service Harassment Problem: Chief’s Phone Call Transcript

Here is a link to the transcript of the all-staff phone call. Christiansen talks about her background and experience, and also what she is looking toward in the future for the Forest Service. It’s interesting for those reasons (and the fact that the Department is planning to get an Undersecretary sometime). There is a discussion with others about what the Forest Service intends to do about sexual harassment and some questions.

I think that they are right on the fact that it is an ongoing problem and will take an ongoing focus and pressure through time, and I think they are the right people and this is the right time. Based on the phone call, I would add a few twists:

(1) To fix it, we need to know where it’s a problem and understand predisposing factors. Let’s face it, most of the examples in the news stories are in Fire. Fire is a separate subculture in the Forest Service. A heat map is good, but a heat map that includes location and staff area would be better.

(2) On the call they mentioned a few outside groups including NOAA. Since Fire is a thing, they really need to bring in the other Fire agencies because FS people interact with them, and because agencies like the BLM are working on the same problem. I would say “know what they are doing, work together, but don’t wait for them.”

(3) And the most relevant people again, because we have to say Fire is at least part, and potentially most, if the problem and fire tends to have a militaristic tone, then work with the military and see what they are doing and how it has worked.. or not. Learn from them. Even if there weren’t a connection to Fire, the military has had ongoing problems in this area (including assault) and has had very smart dedicated people working on it. For example DOD has an entire Sexual Assault and Prevention Office.

(4) Absolutely, the first line supervisors need support in dealing with these problems, as one of the people on the call asked. They need to trust that those people they are asking for advice are not random people assigned by unknown entities who might make things worse. That element of trust is crucial.

(5) IMHO the questions in the previous (OIG) survey were haphazard and not directed at useful kinds of information. Use consultants, and your own high quality cadre of social scientists (who also have skin in the game over time) to figure out what needs to be asked, and how to ask it to get the answers you need to manage into the future. Run the draft survey questions by a variety of people.

(6) Post to the public what you are doing and develop annual reports, so employees and outside folks can track patterns over time. This will help the agency not lose focus when the next alligator biting its rear lunges onto the scene.

To relate to some of the issues in the military, here’s an example from the 2017 Service Academy Gender Relations Focus Groups..

Cadet and midshipman focus group participants primarily discussed a form of retaliation known as ostracism. Ostracism involves exclusion from social acceptance for making a report or intending to report protected communication, such as a sexual assault allegation. Fear of ostracism may be acute at the MSAs, since many focus group participants noted that cadets and midshipmen rely on the help and camaraderie of classmates to graduate.
Cadets and midshipmen students were also concerned that rumors of involvement with a sexual assault case could harm their careers and follow them in their future roles as officers. Due to the Academies’ small size, rumors travel quickly via word-of-mouth and victims are concerned about loss of anonymity.

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