“Culture of Fear” at Interior

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“Culture of Fear” at Interior

Washington, DC — Workers within the U.S. Department of Interior live in a “culture of fear” where “hatchet people” mete out punishment based on office politics, according to an agency-wide survey and investigative report quietly posted by the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) late last week.

Survey results mirror reports from Interior staff received daily at Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) from employees ranging from rank and file staff to park superintendents and other top managers who feel that they cannot disclose problems without facing retribution.

OIG sent its survey sent out to more than 25,000 employees, including supervisors, human resource managers and lawyers in agencies such as the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Fish & Wildlife Service. Nearly 40% of those who received surveys responded, with key results including–

  • More than one quarter of staff fear retaliation for reporting problems;
  • A solid majority do not see the disciplinary system as being fairly administered on a consistent basis; and
  • Nearly half believe that discipline is taken on the basis of whom the person knows rather than what they did.

The Department of Interior is engaged in several high-profile cases of discipline against employees who have spoken out about problems, such as U.S. Park Police Chief Teresa Chambers. Yet in his transmittal letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Inspector General Earl Devaney states without explanation “many, if not most, of our findings in this report pre-dated your tenure as Secretary.” Devaney reports directly to Secretary Norton. Devaney recommends that steps be taken to reduce “the fear of reprisal” and to improve the consistency of disciplinary actions taken.

“The culture of fear in Interior starts at the top,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization’s attorneys will be questioning Secretary Norton and other top Interior officials under oath later this month in the Chambers case. “The Inspector General only goes halfway with his report by finding a ‘culture of fear’ but refusing to name who the employees fear.”


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