House Oversight Hearing Tomorrow (Nov. 15, 2018) on Forest Service Misconduct and Retaliation


Here’s the link. If anyone wants to watch and report, please comment below.

There was a radio show with Shannon Reed, Lesa Donnelly and Lawrence Lucas on Blog Talk Radio. The link is here. I think it was Lesa that said some pretty derogatory things about the Chief and other women leaders in the FS (to my mind, uncalled-for). It does give you insight into what some of the players will say in a less formal environment than an Oversight Hearing.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will receive an update this week on the Forest Service’s response to a history of sexual misconduct in the agency, as complaints about officials’ response continue to surface.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen is among the witnesses scheduled to testify Thursday. Since taking charge of the Forest Service in March, she has put a new reporting system in place and vowed to change the workplace culture — but reports of harassment and retaliation against those who report it have persisted, according to Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.).

The hearing follows a letter Gowdy wrote to the Department of Agriculture — which oversees the Forest Service — on Oct. 22, requesting documents and information related to sexual misconduct and the agency’s response. He had asked the department to comply by Nov. 5.

News reports this year have shed light on a long history of harassment and similar behavior within the agency, especially in firefighting crews. The scandal reached the top of the agency earlier this year, when Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke resigned amid reports about a romantic relationship he had a decade earlier with a lower-ranking agency employee, when he was a forest supervisor.

Christiansen has overseen the development of a new system to confidentially report incidents, as well as mandatory anti-harassment training for employees. USDA’s Office of the Inspector General has been looking into the issues, and Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong is scheduled to testify.

But a group of current and former Forest Service employees complained in a Nov. 9 letter to Christiansen and lawmakers that the department’s efforts have fallen flat and that officials haven’t responded to letters from the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees outlining many incidents.

“We women continue to be discriminated against, harassed, endured sexual and physical abuse, and experienced retaliation,” they wrote, asking for a meeting with Christiansen. “The Coalition had no choice but to seek congressional hearings and contact news media, radio media and television media to expose the serious issues of discrimination, harassment, and workplace violence against female employees.”

Retaliation against employees, including denial of training and fire assignments, and false disciplinary charges, has occurred since March, when Christiansen became interim chief after Tooke resigned, they said.

The current and former employees also asked to be included in meetings with USDA and the Forest Service “to collaborate on problem solving,” and they predicted that some of the signers of the letter will be “illegally fired.”

Schedule: The hearing is Thursday, Nov. 15, at 10 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.

Witnesses:

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
Phyllis Fong, USDA inspector general.
Shannon Reed, air quality specialist and former employee, Forest Service.

Does anyone have a copy of the Nov. 9 letter to Christiansen? Please email to me or attach in comments.

13 thoughts on “House Oversight Hearing Tomorrow (Nov. 15, 2018) on Forest Service Misconduct and Retaliation”

  1. You can watch the Congressional hearing on pervasive, permissive environment of sexual harassment, abuse and retaliation against women in the U.S. Forest Service here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1581&v=4Rzyrvdq2sA

    Shannon Reed’s courageous testimony (which starts at approximately 22 minutes in) is truly shocking, or perhaps not.

    Regular readers of this blog should know that reporters and investigator with PBS Newshour (who helped break the story about former Chief Tony Tooke) used our blog posts, and especially comments made by various people (some with their own stories of harassment and abuse), to put a lot of pieces of this puzzle together. Hopefully there continues (starts?) to be more accountability with the U.S. Forest Service and that the victims get justice.

    Reply
  2. The Chief’s testimony was uneven at best. Ms.
    Reed’s comments were alarming, though with she being allowed 3 times the allowable time to make an opening statement set the stage for how the hearing (and questioning) transpired. I got the sense that the Agency does not concur with Ms. Reed’s account. This puts the issue back into a “he said, she said” dilemma – that is not a path towards correcting the abhorrent behavior that demeans/harasses/abuses female FS employees.

    Reply
    • Tony, I have spoken with some folks involved, and was given some of the official documents, and indeed there is another side to the story. It’s really difficult because if Ms. Reeds says “x happened” such as yelling, which others would have an opportunity to overhear (at least in all the open FS offices I’ve worked in) or being grabbed by TT, and you believe that the others won’t tell the truth due to retaliation or even if you’re not sure whether the others will tell the truth or not, then you can never find out the truth.

      I wish I could post the documents, but they were given with the understanding that I would not.

      I wonder if it’s time for cameras in the workplace.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for providing the link to the recording. I cannot believe that the Chief of the FS can sit there and hear the things that Shannon Reed experienced and not express “zero tolerance” for those things. And I’m not talking about the experience she had in R3. I am talking about the “day to day” things she experienced as a woman that lots of other women have experienced. I too was told that I was taking a job away from a man – and I know plenty of other women who have heard the same thing. That is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Expecting employees to police that themselves is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Having a “code of conduct” that doesn’t address those types of things directly is NOT ACCEPTABLE. For the Chief to not acknowledge that that is NOT ACCEPTABLE is NOT ACCEPTABLE. Yes, sometimes you have to be very direct and tell people specific behaviors that are NOT ACCEPTABLE. I’ve had to do that with some of my employees. It’s not fun, but you have to spell it out very clearly for them.

    Reply
  4. Sharon, the fact that you are sharing a vague comment as to having some of the documents of her cases (that can’t be shared) suggesting Ms. Reed’s dishonesty, is a prime example of the problem of our culture- an igornant mentality of whispers inside and outside the FS that the burden if proof is on the alleged victim and not the accused.

    None of us know all the facts. None if us know the whole story. I don’t know that she us telling the truth or lying. At best, we can say we don’t know. As a former supervisor in the FS, I am aware of how easy it is to let someone go and set them up for failure on a PIP. I also understand the anger management can feel when there is a “bad apple” in the bunch. I think the PIP and the R3 RF, Cal Joyner’s, approach and approval of this dismissal should be looked into by an outside investigator.

    The pendulum of extremes is certainly in full swing, and it is turning into a wrecking ball.

    Reply
    • Blunt I’m sorry you took it that way… what I meant to say was that reading the documents made me understand how hard it would be for an outside person to corroborate or come to a conclusion. Based on the statements made, whether there were other people around, and if they would come forward or tell the truth if asked. Thank you for helping me clarify my statement.
      I think people who are good at investigating should be able to say what they found, and the reasons and those documents should be public. In this case, as I’ve said before, I think they should have switched supervisors as soon as a harassment complaint was made.

      Reply
  5. No other federal agency has implicated the Privacy Act as a stumbling block to a harassment-free workplace. Why did Chief Christiansen do so in her testimony yesterday? Has she a list of proposed amendments to the Privacy Act and vetted them through OGC, DOJ, and the White House? I don’t think so. Asking Congress to change a government-wide law because one’s own agency can’t get its employees to behave properly is poor form, at best.

    Reply
    • Excellent point. A lot of the privacy act points relate to not being able to tell the person who was harassed what the specific punishment was (if any) for the person who harassed them and whether or not the harasser was found “guilty” or “innocent”. Of course, if the harasser is terminated, that is pretty obvious, or if they suddenly have to take a 2 week “vacation” they have probably been suspended. And if the harasser is still at work doing what they have always done, you can be pretty sure that nothing of substance was done and that your claim of harassment was not “proven” or not found to be very serious. I think the Privacy Act concerns are more about “process”, which is most of what Chief Christiansen seemed concerned about. We need to be more concerned about outcomes…not process.

      Reply
    • I was shocked that Chief Christiansen would use the Privacy Act as an excuse–shocked but not surprised. I believe the Chief is stuck in the past and is using the same old systems that DON’T WORK to address this endemic, wide-spread problem. She doesn’t seem to know what to do to affect change. Accountability and making results and actions to stop these predators is key, in my opinion, to making harassment stop. Multiple Congress members questioned why zero-tolerance couldn’t be put in place IMMEDIATELY. I’m not optimistic about things changing in the USDA Forest Service.

      Reply
  6. I listened to the entire hearing and was so disappointed with Chief Christiansen and OIG Rep. Fong. I don’t believe they have the progressive mindsets or skills to make the USDA Forest Service work environment free of harassment. Multiple members of Congress said a zero tolerance policy should be able to be put in place and ENFORCED IMMEDIATELY, not years from now as the Chief indicated. She said she has a zero tolerance policy NOW but harassment continues to this day. Clearly steps the Chief and OIG are recommending and implementing are not working. Until victims and others see real and immediate actions to stop predators, I believe harassment will continue. The workforce MUST see actions taken against predators and alleged predators (separate the employees from working together) made public and take place IMMEDIATELY, not YEARS after a complaint has been filed. I am not optimistic that the USDA Forest Service will affect a harassment-free work environment.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to andystahl Cancel reply