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Park Service probe reveals how fear prevents harassment reports

If you are a federal worker in Texas or Georgia who regularly reads this blog, you know our focus is on upholding worker rights as guaranteed by law. Those rights include the right to be free from a broad range of harassment, including sexual harassment. But, as we noted in one of our posts in June, it can be hard to leverage that protection if the general culture in an agency ignores the issues.

Another thing that doesn't help is if the depth of the offensive culture is such that it creates an atmosphere of intimidation and raises fear of retaliation – stifling victims or concerned coworkers from speaking up. Harassment represents a violation of the Merit System meant to shield workers. But effective enforcement requires people be confident that they have a case and skilled legal support at their side.

In our post in June, we were struck by the level of outrage that members of Congress displayed during a hearing featuring the director of the National Park Service. Of particular concern to the lawmakers was what they described as three cases of substantiated sexual harassment in two years involving the chief ranger at Canaveral National Seashore in Florida. Well, this week, lawmakers held another hearing and it's clear anger is still riding high.

The reason seems clear. In the wake of the initial hearing in June and ahead of the most recent hearing, it was reported that two high-ranking officials at the center of the controversies, including the chief ranger, have been temporarily reassigned to other duties. Each is reportedly doing different work from their respective homes and continuing to be paid their regular salaries.

That leaves some observers convinced that higher-ups in the Park Service are protected by a culture that's out of alignment with the law. Members of Congress and other suggest that doesn't do much to encourage front line workers that their issues will matter if they report violations.

Also supporting that view are results of the Inspector General's probe of the matter, which noted multiple instances of workers who said they hadn't taken the initiative to report problems for fear of repercussions.

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