During the partial government shutdown of 2013, the Parks Service angered people with signs like these
During the partial government shutdown of 2013, the Parks Service angered people with signs like these | youtube, the commons

Congress demands docs regarding sexual harassment at National Park Service

Bipartisan lawmakers from a government watchdog committee have demanded that the embattled director of the National Park Service produce documents regarding continuing misconduct at the federal agency.

On July 28, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis demanding documents related to "a pattern of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment" that persisted for more than a decade at two NPS facilities. The harassment took place at the Grand Canyon River District, which is now abolished, and the Canaveral National Seashore.

Citing concerns about the lack of accountability for known problems, the letter referenced a 16-year-old survey and task force regarding sexual harassment against women.

"The task force found NPS was unable to retain women in law enforcement positions due to gender bias, sexual harassment and hostile work environments," the letter states. Additionally, the letter reads, more than half of all female park rangers reported workplace sexual harassment, with 80 percent saying they knew someone who had been harassed "but did not report if for fear of retaliation."

The survey and task force, both from the year 2000, produced a number of recommendations.

"The Park Service never implemented any of these recommendations," the July 28 letter states. "It should come as no surprise that NPS is still plagued by the same serious issues."

The letter comes in the wake of the committee's June hearing into allegations of employee misconduct at the National Park Service. 

The hearing was convened to address both the allegations of sexual harassment and a culture of tolerance for such behavior, a committee staff member told AMI Newswire.

The staff member directed this reporter to the committee website, which lists specific concerns. Among those concerns are more than 20 claims of sexual harassment and misconduct that were reported over the past 15 years.

The committee website states: "Director Jarvis has not fired any of the perpetrators involved despite NPS’s zero tolerance policy."

Additionally, the site states: "Top officials at NPS are not held accountable for their misconduct, mismanagement, or unethical behavior. These individuals face inadequate repercussions and in some cases are even promoted."

The committee also expressed concerns that the NPS has fostered a culture whereby employees fear retaliation for reporting misconduct.

During the June hearing, the NPS chief portrayed his agency as being free of impropriety. "We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment," Jarvis told lawmakers.

Congressional overseers said otherwise.

"You failed the system," committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz  (R-UT) told Jarvis, while explaining why he would not want family members to work for the NPS. "Your leadership is lacking."

Later in the hearing, another member challenged Jarvis' handling of confirmed incidents. "Discipline and punishment is one thing, hand-slapping is another," said Rep Jody Hice (R-GA). "I would hardly call what's taking place as discipline."

Jarvis is no stranger to controversy. Earlier this year, the Obama appointee was disciplined for writing a book in violation of the terms of his employment with the federal government. As a result of writing the book without clearing the project through an ethics office, Jarvis must attend monthly sessions on ethics. He is required to attend the sessions for the remainder of his federal career.

In 2013, Jarvis came under fire for his handling of the partial government shutdown, when - among other things - he taped off the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. in order to prevent citizen access.

Neither Jarvis nor the National Park Service responded to AMI Newswire's emailed requests for comment regarding the July 28 letter from Congress.

The letter was signed by Chaffetz along with Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and Brenda Lawrence (D-MI).

Jarvis has until 5 p.m. Aug. 11 to provide the requested documents.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Rep. Jody Hice as a Democrat. Hice is a Republican.