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Zinke Reacts to Harassment Survey With 4 Dismissals

  • VOA News

FILE - Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks on the Trump administration's energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, Sept. 29, 2017.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has fired four senior staffers at the Department of the Interior for what he called inappropriate behavior, in response to widespread allegations of sexual harassment at the agency.

Zinke spoke to employees in a video posted on the Interior Department website, saying, "The culture of harassment and intimidation, which this administration inherited, has come to an end. I've already removed four senior leaders that were guilty of inappropriate behavior, and I will remove 400 more if necessary."

He did not release the names of those he had fired.

Such behavior, he continued, paired with failure to take action, prevents the department from achieving "mission success."

The survey he referenced was released Thursday. It found that of the department's nearly 70,000 employees, 35 percent said they had been harassed or discriminated against in the past 12 months.

Sixteen percent said they had experienced gender-based harassment, 8 percent reported being victims of sexual harassment, and 9 percent described harassment based on race or ethnicity.

Those harassed said in about 40 percent of the cases, no action was taken by the management or they were encouraged to drop the issue.

The survey, which more than 28,000 employees took part in, was conducted from January to March 2017. The employees' answers covered the 12-month period before the survey was completed.

The survey followed findings, released by the Interior Department in October, of widespread harassment within the National Park Service. About 40 percent of Park Service employees reported having been harassed in some way in the previous 12 months.

The findings "suggest there was a meltdown of the accountability mechanisms'' at the department, said Jeff Ruch with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group for government employees that has been critical of Zinke's handling of harassment.

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