Park Service Shelved Employee Harassment Review
Elaborate Employee Outreach Effort Completed in 2018 but Not Distributed
Washington, DC — A detailed examination of the toxic work culture within the National Park Service (NPS) has gathered dust for the past three years despite promises that it would be used as a critical tool for healing. As a result, this nationwide effort at employee engagement may have had the opposite effect, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which today posted the buried “NPS Voices 2018” report.
Stung by a 2017 survey in which 35 percent of the more than 28,000 Department of Interior employees surveyed said they experienced harassment or discrimination within the prior 12 months, NPS commissioned an outreach campaign called “NPS Voices.” All NPS employees were invited to participate in what top officials called “a cornerstone in our efforts to change the culture that has allowed harassment to persist.”
During four months ending in April 2018, a human relations contractor conducted more than 53 in-person sessions and 27 web sessions, altogether involving more than 1,200 employees, around 8% of the entire NPS permanent workforce. A report which summarized this sizeable employee input was completed later that year but was never distributed.
Among the key findings on the NPS Voices 2018 effort were:
- “The pervasiveness of disrespectful and abusive behavior should sound as much alarm as the high rates of harassment that prompted the tour.”
- “Participants express a strong, consistent sentiment that Human Resources does not function effectively or constructively at every stage of the employment life cycle and that its systems are unresponsive, understaffed, and out of touch with the field.”
- A total lack of accountability for misconduct is rife, especially among superintendents and other senior officials who are “transferred or even promoted rather than given realistic and appropriate consequences.”
“By burying this report, the Park Service has turned a deaf ear to a cry for help from its own workforce,” stated Rocky Mountain PEER Director Chandra Rosenthal. “It is unlikely that the deep internal dysfunction the report described has improved but may have gotten worse.”
In that regard, Rosenthal points to report findings that employee cynicism will be aggravated if this attempt at engagement comes to naught:
“Perhaps the strongest message that emerged from the Voices Tour was that participants need to see a response to what they have shared…If parks do not see tangible action coming from the findings of the Tour, we are concerned that the Tour will have raised and then dashed the hopes of those in need of help and change.”
In a letter to incoming NPS Director Charles (Chuck) Sams, PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse advised that “It is not too late to answer the alarm sounded in the NPS Voices 2018 report.” But he warned that “Changing the dynamics pervasive within the NPS will take more than words; it will require removing managers who perpetuate this toxic culture.”