Two Stories on the Forest Service Oversight Hearings on Sexual Harassment

Here is the coverage from Government Executive: Two points first, Gov Exec reporting.

While training in fire-fighting, she was called a ***** and was told she would have to ***** to keep her job, she said. Male supervisors threatened to “bend me over and spank me,” she testified. She was tripped, pushed and kicked.

When Reed left the National Park Service operations at the Grand Canyon in 2015 to transfer to the Forest Service, “little did I know I was going from the frying pan to the fire,” she said. Men told her she was “unwelcome as a female” and “seen as a sex object” who had “no right to the job.”

Some of the worst quotes in the NPR story here actually were from the Park Service part of her testimony, based on what GovExec reported. Not that the FS is any better.. but.. for accuracy.

What I thought was interesting about this Gov Exec reporting is that they added the context of the Park Service to the story about the House heaing. The FS (Christiansen and Vela) have what appears to be variants of the same problem (and other Interior agencies may, and since Ms. Reed’s worst stories have to do with fire, and fire is interagency) doesn’t it make sense for these agencies to work together or try the same things, or consciously try different things and compare? It sounds like they are all independent efforts. Could this be a problem?

“Changing a culture is a multi-pronged effort,” Christiansen said, adding that any large organization has a population of mostly good people but some “who don’t do the right thing.” She said she “would like to say [we could do] it in six months, but with an agency that’s 112 years old with a mission of getting a critical job done in remote locations—[it won’t be done] overnight.”

Reed, who identified herself as one of the 34 women, said her case of being fired after retaliation has not been closed. She said the new Forest Service remedies “have no real application in reducing sexual harassment.” The process is a “failure and a waste of money” that “has not made a safe environment for reporting sexual harassment,” she added. She still knows women who are being forced to have sex with their supervisors, Reed said.

On the Senate side, Raymond David Vela, a 28-year career Park Service employee whom Trump nominated to head the agency in August, told the Energy and Natural Resources panel that his agency “had made great strides” but in some ways had still “fallen short” in creating “a workplace that treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Vela called harassment “a scourge” for the service and society. “We will continue to hold people accountable,” he said. “We’re in a better place, with better reporting, subject-matter experts and a defined process.” But he said he was still learning what “takes place in the field, where we haven’t had adequate reporting and protocols.” The NPS is “not quite there yet on accountability,” Vela said. “Every leader in the Park Service must own this,” and it will be used in their performance evaluation process.

NPR’s headline was Forest Service Chief says “it will take longer than any of us want.” I think that that’s a true statement. What was missing from the NPR story IMHO was any context of other efforts by other kinds of agencies.

Just for reference, let’s look at the military’s annual report on assault, not harassment.

Out of those 2,218 cases in which commanders had evidence to take action, 1,446 received action on at least one sexual assault charge; 774, or 54 percent, of the 1,446 cases were entered into the court-martial process, while the remaining cases received adverse administrative actions or discharges (378 cases) or were administered nonjudicial punishment (294 cases). The remaining 772 cases had no evidence of a sexual assault crime, but resulted in disciplinary action on some other form of misconduct discovered during the course of the sexual assault investigation, such as physical assault, making a false official statement or underage drinking.

2 thoughts on “Two Stories on the Forest Service Oversight Hearings on Sexual Harassment”

  1. In my opinion, the effective way to resolve this harassment issue is for increased transparency, which Chief Christiansen called for when she requested Congressional help to unravel the complexities of the Privacy Act. When employees can see clearly see that perpetrators are held accountable for their abusive actions, then confidence will increase that such behavior truly has consequences. This would seem to have an “eye for an eye” flavor, but I know that if my spouse or daughter was to share with me that she has been on the receiving of such abusive and demeaning behavior, I would want retribution.

    • Good point, Tony. I administered the Privacy Act for Region 6 for a little while in the late ’80s, and it was mostly a non-issue. I haven’t followed this story closely, but I would expect OPM personnel rules to be a factor, too. In either case, though, it shouldn’t be hard to change the rules so that privacy protections would be waived in cases of certain kinds of misconduct. That would probably lead to a greater need for due process for an accused, which would make it more complicated and expensive for the agency – which might be the real excuse for why this problem hasn’t been solved yet.


Leave a Comment