Abuses at National Park Service Argued in House

     WASHINGTON (CN) — Newly public allegations of sexual harassment at the National Park Service gave new life to old stories from an inspector general report Thursday, leaving members of Congress exasperated over the culture that has persisted at the agency.
     At a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Kelly Martin, the chief of fire and aviation management at Yosemite National Park, for the first time publicly relayed stories of sexual harassment she experienced at the hands of fellow employees in her 30 years on the job.
     In 1987, Martin, then just 24, was attending “ranger skills” training on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. While there, a fellow employee — dressed in a park ranger uniform — looked through Martin’s bathroom window while she was stepping into the shower.
     Martin went to her supervisors at the training center but, afraid she might face backlash without actually spurring any action, she accepted just an apology from the other employee.
     “It was very embarrassing,” Martin said at the hearing. “I didn’t think anyone would actually believe me that something like this had happened to me.”
     Unbeknownst to Martin, however, the park service had been investigating the man over similar allegations. Though he was “repeatedly caught” spying on other women, Martin watched as he received promotions throughout the agency until he retired recently.
     Later, another employee who kept pictures of Martin tucked under the sun visor of his government car pushed Martin against a wall in her office and tried to kiss her. Again afraid nobody would believe her, Martin declined to report the man until he applied for another job within the park service.
     “These three incidents show a clear failure on management’s response to take action to investigate and advocate on a victim’s behalf,” Martin said in a written statement submitted to the committee. “Incidents such as these lead to an atmosphere that discourages women from making complaints, which in turn breeds a culture that is tolerant of harassment and misconduct.”
     Martin’s stories were similar to those described in an inspector general report released in January that found rampant sexual harassment issues within the National Park Service, specifically at Grand Canyon National Park.
     In the report, the inspector general found that male employees working on river trips in the park demanded sex from female employees, and denied them food or shamed them if they declined.
     The committee held a hearing in June to examine the allegations at Grand Canyon National Park, at which National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis testified.
     Brian Healy, the fisheries program manager at Grand Canyon National Park, joined Martin in testifying before the committee Thursday as a whistleblower. He told lawmakers some of the employees who oversaw the actions identified in the inspector general report on Grand Canyon National Park have remained in their jobs.
     This undermines employee confidence in their supervisors and contributes to a hostile work environment, Healy said.
     Both Healy and Martin told lawmakers they were concerned about how their testimony could impact their careers.
     “I’ll be facing serious repercussions,” Martin said at the hearing. “But I just have to go on record to tell you that I have a tremendous amount of supportive women behind me. They could not do this, but the other important thing is that there are men that want to see our culture change too.”
     Martin said after the hearing it was important for her to testify not just to bring her experiences to light, but to be a voice for others who are not in the position to testify. Her experience working her way up through the male-dominated field gives her an understanding of the culture and an authority to speak on the issues, Martin said in an interview.
     While both whistleblowers said they were apprehensive of what they will face upon returning from their testimony, lawmakers promised them Congress would not tolerate retaliation.
     “I want to vow to you, and I’m sure everybody on this committee feels the same way, let me send a message to all those who are thinking about retaliating or doing harm, that we will come at you with everything we’ve got,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, said at the hearing.
     The new allegations and still-hot anger over the inspector general report’s findings caused lawmakers to turn their ire to Deputy Director for Operations Michael Reynolds, who testified at the hearing.
     Reynolds especially faced heat from lawmakers after he mentioned a zero-tolerance policy at the department.
     “You said you have a zero-tolerance policy, are you kidding me?” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said. “Show me an example of zero tolerance.”
     Like other hearings about misconduct at federal agencies, lawmakers particularly called for cultural changes to the department, saying that until people feel safe to report their concerns without retaliation and with confidence their report will lead to action, nothing will change.
     “The tone is set at the top, so the tone has to change going forward,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyoming, said at the hearing.

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