Interior Dept. disciplined 1,500 employees for misconduct

Posted at 1:02 PM, Oct 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-11 15:02:06-04

The Interior Department disciplined 1,500 employees in 2017 and 2018 for misconduct, according to an internal email obtained by CNN.

The employees, both full-time staff and probationary appointees, have either been removed, reprimanded or suspended, according to the email sent by from Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.

Bernhardt provided the update to follow up on Secretary Ryan Zinke’s promise to crack down on what the department called “the widespread and pervasive culture of harassment and discrimination” in a news release last year. The initial effort focused on harassment in the National Park Service, but since then, the department has taken steps to combat harassment throughout the department. The 1,500 employees come from all parts of the department as well.

The Hill first reported the numbers.

Zinke announced plans to combat harassment in the National Park Service last October, a week after The New York Times published the first story detailing allegations of sexual assault and harassment from Harvey Weinstein, igniting the national #MeToo movement.

A National Park Service Work Environment Survey from 2017 found that 10.4% of service employees had experienced sexual harassment, and 38.7% employees reported experiencing some form of harassment in the past year alone, according to the initial release.

National Park Service Acting Director Paul Daniel Smith apologized to employees in an email in June for behaving “in an inappropriate manner in a public hallway” but defended his actions from allegations of harassment. After an employee complained that Smith had grabbed his genitals and made a gesture in front of other employees in a NPS hallway, according to a Washington Post report, an inspector general investigation was opened.

Since last year, the department has implemented several measures to actively combat harassment in the agency, according to the email.

In April, the department adopted its first policy regarding harassment at all levels in the workplace. The policy sets standards for what kind of conduct is prohibited in the workplace and clarifies workers’ rights, according to the internal email. It also established a reporting procedure for these kinds of complaints.

While these efforts are designed to help prevent harassment, Bernhardt stressed that individual employees still need to come forward for the agency to eliminate harassment.

“We can only take action when we are aware of misconduct or unethical behavior. For this to happen, employees have to be willing to come forward,” Bernhardt said in the email. “I want you to know that your leadership is listening.”

An Interior Department spokeswoman had no additional comment when reached by CNN.

-Ellie Kaufman and Gregory Wallace reporting for CNN

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