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Park Service 'Culture of sexual harassment' draws lawmaker fire

The National Park Service is a proud institution. Created in 1916, it claims oversight of operations covering 84 million acres of land. The sites include historical and wilderness parks, monuments, battlefields and more in Texas, Georgia and other states.

In 2015, more than 300 million visitors took in the sights at parks around the country. Helping them get the most out of those visits were more than 20,000 employees. Unfortunately, while front-line staffers have helped open the eyes of millions of tourists, Congress says upper management has turned a blind eye to internal problems and that a culture of sexual harassment now runs deep in the agency.

Lawmakers from both parties launched a blistering attack on the director of the Park Service earlier this month, calling into question his ability to address a growing list of issues of discrimination and misconduct.

Of particular concern was the recent revelation of three substantiated cases of sexual harassment of female employees since 2014 by the chief ranger at a central Florida park. The man is still on the job. Lawmakers wanted to know why.

The director told lawmakers that civil service law protections make it hard to fire alleged offenders. But members of Congress were clearly not impressed by his responses. Indeed, they made a point of highlighting that the director himself has been disciplined for violating agency ethics rules he was in charge of enforcing.

To be sure, Park Service employees enjoy the same protections of due process offered by federal civil service law as nearly all federal employees do. But it is also a fact that victims of sexual harassment at work have rights too, and sometimes they need the help of experienced legal counsel to protect those rights in the face of a failure to act by agency managers.

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