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USDA Employees Report Culture Of Harassment, Retaliation

National Forest Service
Courtesy of the National Forest Service

National Forest Service employees testified Thursday before Congress about a longstanding culture of sexual harassment, whistle-blower retaliation and discrimination. The hearing follows a federal investigation at the Grand Canyon and other national parks that found many incidents of assault. 

Since the Office of Inspector General’s report came out earlier this year, the National Park Service has removed some of its managers. Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz says the number of complaints is “horrifying” and much more needs to be done. 

The Office of Special Counsel found the USDA Office of Civil Rights is “seriously mismanaged, thereby compromising the rights of USDA employees.” 

Eldorado National Forest firefighter Denice Rice filed a report against her supervisor saying he repeatedly asked for sex, stalked her and trapped her in her office. Rice told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that the agency protected her perpetrator. 

"While he was under investigation for sexual assault he continued to supervise women, and was allowed to take agency-paid developmental training to promote his career, and act as District Ranger,” Rice said. “This message meant that nothing was wrong, and I was the problem.”

The Forest Service has a poor record of investigating harassment allegations. Perpetrators have escaped discipline by retiring, moving or in some cases receiving promotions. 

The Forest Service asked Congress to simplify the process to fire federal employees.

Laurel Morales was a Fronteras Desk reporter in Flagstaff from 2011 to 2020.