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Ethics Issues Still Dog National Park Service

Ethics problems continue to surface at the Department of Interior, as a report released Wednesday says Yellowstone National Park maintenance workers created a “men's club” of intolerance toward women.

(CN) – Ethics problems continue to surface at the Department of Interior, as a report released Wednesday says Yellowstone National Park maintenance workers created a “men's club” of intolerance toward women.

The Office of Inspector General opened the investigation at Yellowstone National Park in September 2016 after a National Park Service employee claimed there was a “pervasive culture of gender bias, sexual harassment, and financial misconduct” in the park's maintenance division.

According to Wednesday's report, the reporting employee said the maintenance supervisor's behavior was “tolerated and even fostered by a men’s club environment – one of insensitivity and arrogance toward other Yellowstone employees – that was pervasive” in the division between 2011 and 2015.

“We found credible evidence that male supervisors and staff in the maintenance division unit created a work environment that included unwelcome and inappropriate comments and actions toward women,” the report says.

The report indicates the maintenance supervisor at Yellowstone was also accused of financial misconduct involving government funds. The supervisor had allowed his employees to use his government credit card to make personal purchases, according to the report

Issues also came to light this week at Yosemite National Park. In a report released Monday, the Office of Inspector General said a senior official at the park had created a hostile work environment by basing management decisions on bias or favoritism and by harassing or belittling employees.

The investigation, which also began last fall, found 12 unrelated allegations of discrimination, hostile work environment and other misconduct involving Yosemite and National Park Service Pacific West region employees.

“While we found no evidence to support the allegation that the official based management decisions on bias or favoritism, we determined that his management style may have contributed to what some Yosemite employees perceived as inappropriate behavior,” the report says. “Forty-two of the 71 employees we interviewed about the allegations spoke highly of the official as a manager, but many of the interviewees said that he sometimes communicated poorly; that he could be dismissive, abrupt, or overly critical; and that he would often publicly criticize and undermine employees after he lost confidence in them. Some felt the official’s treatment of them was personal or motivated by factors such as gender bias, while others accepted his behavior and did not believe he was aware of it.”

Last May, a male worker with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pleaded guilty to abusive sexual contact with a co-worker when they were working in Glacier National Park. In that case, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen sentenced 67-year-old Lawrence Lockard of Bigfork, Montana, to six months jail and ordered him to pay $22,000 in restitution to the victim.

Mary Kendall, deputy inspector general of the Department of Interior, testified before Congress last year about the allegations of misconduct in the National Park Service and Department of Interior.

“I am continually surprised by the variations of misconduct brought to our attention,” Kendall said in her testimony. “Unfortunately, misconduct by those few receives notoriety and casts a shadow over the entire department.”

Kendall said the Office of Inspector General's investigation into a “pattern and practice of sexual harassment at Grand Canyon National Park provided a glaring example of Park Service management failing to take proper action when employees reported wrongdoing.”

She added, “Similarly, after receiving an investigative report on the chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park violating the rules on the use of park housing, the agency transferred the ranger and named him superintendent. The appearance of rewarding bad behavior is not the desired outcome – nor a proper deterrent.”

In that case, Yellowstone National Park chief ranger Timothy Reid had been found in violation of the park's housing policy when investigators discovered he had opened his agency housing to visitors from around the world, including a family from France. Reid lived outside the park in Gardiner, Montana, where he ran a bed and breakfast with his wife, according to a government report.

The Office of Inspector General has created a whistleblower program to allow discriminated employees to come forward without retaliation.

“Unfortunately, not all leadership in Department of Interior fully supports their employees contacting the Office of Inspector General to report potential wrongdoing,” Kendall said in her congressional testimony. “There is a pervasive perception by many employees in some bureaus that contacting the OIG to report wrongdoing places them in jeopardy of retaliation. We often learn that management makes more effort to identify the source of a complaint than to explore whether the complaint has merit.”

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