U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) railed against bullying and sexual harassment in the National Park system—specifically in Yellowstone National Park.
Earlier this year, investigators from the U.S. Department of the Interior released a report alleging “credible evidence” of sexual harassment in the Yellowstone workforce, especially in the maintenance division. The report came after allegations surfaced across the National Park system.
Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk has promised broad changes to how the park handles harassment, acknowledging that problems are “not limited to one unit of Yellowstone National Park.”
According to the Billings Gazette, Daines voiced his comments during a subcommittee hearing about workplace problems in the National Park Service. “As a son, husband and father of four, including two young women, this is completely unacceptable,” Daines said. From the Gazette:
The National Park Service is working on workplace issues, said Michael T. Reynolds, acting director of NPS, but restoring employee trust will take work.
“There are some park locations where these cases were allowed to fester, where employees felt reporting these conditions would change nothing and invite retaliation,” Reynolds said. “That was a wakeup call that we needed to make significant improvements to our workplace environment.”
Reynolds said the National Park Service is acting as quickly as possible, conducting workplace surveys to examine the depth of the problem. There is now an ombudsperson’s office where complaints can be made in confidence. That office in four months has received more than 1,000 complaints, mostly about hostile workplace conditions.
And supervisors must take an online training course about harassment and creating a healthy workplace environment.
Daines said in his experience in the business world, online training courses are more often checklist items used to prove something is being done, though results might not follow.
Former National Parks employee Maria Burks of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks said many employees find online surveys ineffective.
Wyoming Republican Sen. John Barrasso said the volume of harassment reports is disturbing, but the NPS and its umbrella agency, the Department of Interior, have a plan.
“Preventing future misconduct and harassment will require radical, immediate and lasting changes at both the National Park Service and the Department of Interior, as a whole,” Barrasso said.
Interior Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has said changes in hiring practices are needed to change the climate in the national park workforce. Indeed, according to the Gazette, Kendall singled out rampant “favoritism and sexism” as dire issues that won’t be easily ameliorated.
Kendall and Burks added potential budget cuts—the presidential budget calls for a $400 million cut to the NPS budget alone—could exacerbate the workforce problem.