Interior works to stem harassment

By Charlie Booher

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke released a personnel bulletin last month addressing harassment in the workplace. ©Gage Skidmore

A new personnel bulletin released last month by the Interior Department details updated rules and regulations surrounding personal conduct.

The department has recently been accused of creating a culture that propagates various types of harassment. In December, Interior officials received the results of employee surveys that outlined the prevalence of inappropriate behavior and a workplace culture that suppressed reporting.

Surveys suggested that upwards of 35 percent of Interior employees experienced harassment or discrimination within the last year. Among these cases, 9.8 percent were related to race and 8 percent were classified as sexual harassment. Gender- and age-based harassment were the most widely reported.

“These survey results don’t illustrate a new problem, but they will help us target where we must dedicate efforts and resources to fix a problem that has festered for years,” Secretary Zinke said in a press release last December. “We are now continuing the needed steps in creating plans across all of our bureaus and offices to ensure that every employee feels, not only safe on a daily basis, but also empowered to speak up should they feel harassed or discriminated against.”

“Harassing conduct” is defined in this document as “unwelcome conduct, verbal or physical, including intimidation, ridicule, insult, comments, or physical conduct, that is based on an individual’s protected status or protected activities.” All of those activities are forbidden under the bulletin. The new policy also includes additional reporting mechanisms and action deadlines for harassment in the workplace and provides a loose outline for these in the personnel bulletin.

“I want you to know that discrimination, harassment, and intimidation will find no quarter under my command,” Zinke stated in an internal memo obtained by E&E news.

Despite the issuance of these new policies, Secretary Zinke faces criticism for his stance on diversity in the workplace. In recent weeks, Interior also saw the reassignment of 33 senior officials, of which 15 were members of racial minority groups. This information was revealed by a Freedom of Information Act suit filed by Katherine Atkinson, a lawyer for one of the reassigned officials. According to the website Talking Points Memo, 11 of those 15 were Native American, leading some legislators to accuse Zinke of attempting to create what Sen. Bob Mendendez, D-New Jersey, referred to in a recent interview as a “lily-white department.”

Read The Wildlife Society’s Standing Position statement on Workforce Diversity within the Wildlife Profession.

Charlie Booher is a Policy Communication Intern at The Wildlife Society. Read more of Charlie's articles.