A Firestorm has begun…
The U.S. Forest service is going to have an interesting time filling the position of Chief – when they must ask if potential candidates harassed anyone, failed to investigate and address reported or known harassment, or moved a harasser instead of taking corrective action. I think there’ll be quite a few who will have to demur. In terms of a wake-up call to the agency, this will be a fairly effective one. There’s only one thing harassers – and those who collude with them – value more than the unchecked power to intimidate and manipulate – and that’s a promotion.
Gloria Flora, Former U.S. Forest Service – 23 years
There has been yearly, mandatory civil rights/sexual harassment training in the Forest Service for decades. One thing I’ve observed is this: it’s a waste of time and money. Training does nothing except to provide fodder for the next round of bar-room jokes. The Forest Service must hire people who can act like adults. The taxpayers do not provide a U.S. Forest Service employee an income to harass their colleagues.
Susan Marsh – U.S. Forest Service, Retired – 30 Years
I have been a Wild Land Firefighter for 20 years and this issue is VERY REAL and includes all the Land Management Agency’s not just the USFS.
Michelle Moore – Comment from PBS NewsHour
I’m a new USDA Forest Service employee and would love to continue my career; however, I’ve been subjected to the below:
– Sexual Jokes
– Attempted assaults
– Reprisal for reporting malfeasance
– Slanderous and Libel statements
– Fraud, waste, and abuse and threats to not report same
– Witnessed coworkers using government computers for personal use
– Threats to end my career for having spoken the truth
Found By Susan Marsh in 2012 – in an on-line blog article from the Forest Service Office of Communications
No one should have to sacrifice self-respect or personal safety just by showing up at work.
Mary – Comment from PBS NewsHour
In the wake of PBS NewsHour’s expose on sexual harassment in the U.S. Forest Service, and Wednesday’s resignation of Tony Tooke, Chief of the Forest Service – we have collected some questions and observations on the issue. It seems things are in full burn.
Our hope is that this is the beginning of positive changes for the women of this country who serve the U.S. Forest Service. We all deserve to work in a safe, respectful environment. That such simple standards are still so difficult to enforce and achieve – in a government agency – speaks volumes. It begs the question: Should any agency that has clearly lost control of it’s employees and cannot enforce the simplest of workplace requirements – be funded with taxpayer’s money? Every government agency may want to ponder that question, as the U.S. Forest Service clearly does not hold the monopoly on this epidemic.
Gloria Flora resigned from the U.S. Forest service in 1999 amidst Fed-bashing, but that was not her only battle. She has a long list of experiences related to sexual harassment, general harassment, abuse of power, and discrimination.
Questions Flora recently shared with us as they pertain to addressing harassment within the agency of the U.S. Forest Service:
- What protocol is in place – within the agency – that effectively protects those who report harassment?
- Is there a policy that addresses swift investigation and resolution? If so, is it being adhered to?
- How fast and effective is the investigative process?
- How quickly are these cases fully resolved?
- What are the consequences if a USFS employee is found guilty of harassment?
- How many individuals accused of harassment were moved in lieu of investigation?
- How many individuals accused of harassment were investigated, found not guilty and then moved?
- Are there protocols in place to prevent differential treatment in harassment cases by grade and position?
- How many individuals have lost their jobs due to being found guilty of harassment?
- How many individuals have left the agency due to ongoing harassment?
- When do outside law enforcement agencies become involved? Are rapes and other sex crimes under a statute of mandatory reporting?
Susan Marsh who just published her article #MeToo In a Culture of Good Old Boys, reminds us:
“In December of 2016 (just over a year ago), the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held a hearing on sexual harassment and discrimination within the Forest Service. Some of its “take-aways” included:
- Harassment and discrimination have gotten worse since 2008.
- Witnesses testified sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, and resulting retaliation have increased since 2008.
- Whistleblowers shared personal accounts of sexual harassment, hostile work environments, and discrimination.
- The Forest Service has shown a lack of accountability and a poor record of investigating allegations of sexual harassment, with perpetrators often escaping discipline by retiring, moving, or seeking [and getting] a promotion.”
With all the awareness campaigns, training, laws for protection, and tools for reporting, how is it things are worse than eight years ago?
Most agency (and business) dysfunction starts at the top and worms its way down. There is said to be a culture in the Forest Service of punishment and retribution for mistakes – metered out by some in leadership positions. So, hiding anything that is less than perfect becomes the practice. Such a policy would certainly contribute to a marked deterioration in transparency, trust, accountability, safety, and ultimately the ability of a publicly funded agency to maintain a productive work environment.
Across the dialogue a collective question has emerged, “Why would anyone recommend this agency as a job choice for their daughters, granddaughters, wives, sisters, nieces, or their female students?” Who would knowingly send someone they care for into such a misogynistic firestorm of disrespect and danger?
Perhaps there should be some consideration given to the economic loss to the agency if the public and private sector pulled their endorsement of the U.S. Forest Service – if universities, public schools, trade programs, industry stakeholders, non-profits, educational programs, conservation groups, etc. – pulled all funding, recommendations, and support of any kind due to the perpetuation of abuse and harassment of women in the employ the U.S. Forest Service.
Flora, Marsh, numerous women interviewed for PBS NewsHour, and many others – paint a very different picture than the one promoted through the agency’s standard answers to questions of inquiry and their “supporting statistics.” From all accounts, there is very little good faith left in the ability of the Forest Service to do the right thing and protect those who serve the agency.
So much so, that PBS NewsHour has set up its own independent tip line. If you are in the U.S. Forest Service and you have experienced gender discrimination or sexual misconduct — and/or retaliation for reporting it, you can email PBS at —firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gloria Flora’s story is almost verbatim to Susan Marsh’s account, and echos the many women interviewed by PBS NewsHour.
We asked Flora for her comments in the wake of the PBS NewsHour report:
“Sadly, I have nothing to dispute about this PBS reporting. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s been going on a long time. I had hoped things had improved in the last decade but doesn’t sound like it. The retaliation towards someone who complained was usually more brutal than the initial harassment. Sometimes the upper echelons were part of that, but it was just about guaranteed a complainant was going to get hammered, dissed for promotions and special assignments and generally labeled as a trouble-maker. The “whisper campaign,” and the peer-to-peer smearing extended well beyond the forest you were on. So, you had to be tough to report it. Sexual harassment complaints were construed as an attack on the agency – you were tarnishing the agency’s reputation and that of a man – a breadwinner.
Some men were real champions of civil/women’s rights and equality, but they were more the exception than the rule. I can’t say I ever saw effective action against harassers. The routine was to keep it quiet and move them somewhere else without penalty, sometimes they even got a promotion. Usually the perpetrator was encouraged to apply for a lot of jobs, given a good recommendation, and the receiving forest was not informed of the problem.
It was far worse on “seasonals,” they didn’t have a support network and didn’t know where to turn. They just tried to tough it out for the season and then go somewhere else the next year.
There was a Class-Action suit in CA in the 80’s that women won and that infuriated the entire organization and made life even more miserable for women, particularly in CA.
All of this went on…despite endless training programs, EEOC plans – a lot of empty talk.
I have a presentation I put together years ago, that outlines how the cultural changes in the USFS were reflective of and parallel to societal changes at the time. Diminished hopes of reaching the American Dream, with the diminishing economies of resource dependent communities. Men no longer assured promotion and total dominance in the workplace and environmental laws and public involvement that made older workers feel that everything they had done in their careers to that point was wrong. We experienced the interruption of personnel – “management-by-cloning” (men grooming younger men in their image to then be promoted regardless of merit), generating backlash to women winning jobs men wanted. Some spouses went apoplectic that a “girl” got the job over their husband – now he was working out in the field with those * * – insert demeaning female expletive.
If you were good at your job, it was very common to deal with the rumors that you got promotions because you “slept your way to the top.” Alternatively, you were “only hired or promoted because of your gender/color.”
Generally women, people of color and those with expertise in something other than range, forestry or engineering were viewed much like immigrants are today by certain folks – “they shouldn’t be here, they are taking our jobs, they don’t know or respect our culture, they’re stupid, too emotional, criminals, lazy, they aren’t worthy of senior positions…” and the standard, “It’s embarrassing to have a * * tell me what to do.”
You had to be tough, resilient and somewhat of a psychologist to navigate the terrain. I sat in many a meeting where one of the few women attending would present a great idea and she’d be ignored. An hour later a guy would say suggest the same thing and all the men would swoon at what a marvelous idea it was…enough – you get the picture. It sucked and apparently it still does.”
Where from here?
As Gloria Flora and Susan Marsh both note, there are many good men – and women – in the U.S. Forest Service. Thankfully, some are willing to wade in and do the right thing. Many female victims of harassment and agency negligence, still have much to recommend about their employer. All these women love what they do – or did – and many stay despite searing adversity. What better recommendation if an agency wants to grow its mission and a committed workforce?
It is not unusual for a crisis to become the cornerstone of future success. There is opportunity here amongst the ashes – what is right about the U.S. Forest Service should be recognized – and can be preserved and regrown. The cultural landscape must be replanted to reflect a respect for, and an unblemished demonstration of adherence to – current policies and workplace requirements. The covert sanctioning at the highest level – which condones personal choice and personal belief over ethics, and what is required by law – must end.
Yesterday, the new interim Chief of the Forest Service was appointed, a woman, named Vicki Christiansen. By all accounts, a good choice. The rising hope is that Ms. Christiansen has the unwavering support of Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, to pursue a new direction – one that gives the status quo it’s long overdue sendoff.
The Mission of the U.S. Forest Service
This time of transition might be a good time for the U.S. Forest Service leaders – and the rest of us – to review The Mission, Motto, Vision and Guiding Principles of the U.S. Forest Service. A beautiful document of purpose with honorable intentions and goals. A document that reflects the service of many, and a history of dedicated stewardship. A document – and a reputation – that have been sullied by institutional entropy.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is: “To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” The motto of the U.S. Forest Service is “Caring for the land and serving people.”
We lead by example. The health, diversity, and productivity of our forests – and of those who care for them – are inextricably connected. You cannot effectively serve others – or lead – if you are systematically dismantling those you work alongside. The future success or failure of the U.S. Forest Service rests in great part with the choices made going forward. Much like a tree, if it is diseased at the center – it will not survive.