National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis expects to hear of more incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct from his agency once a hotline is set up to receive reports.
"Once they see that we are taking action, I expect the numbers of reported incidents to increase. Not that there are more cases, but I think that employees now are feeling more empowered to speak up and step up," he told a gathering of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Monday. "I expect that to occur not only in the National Park Service but in other agencies that are seeing what’s happened to the Park Service and are following our lead.”
The director addressed the situation with sexual harassment and misconduct during an hour-long appearance before the press club. Half of his talk was devoted to questions from the audience.
Last month Director Jarvis outlined to his far-flung field staff of roughly 20,000 employees a "zero tolerance" policy that was being implemented in response to a sordid chapter of sexual harassment that last for years at Grand Canyon National Park.
"Some have asked what it means for the National Park Service to have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment," the director wrote in a memo emailed system-wide. "I want to clearly state that this means that when incidents of harassment are reported, I expect NPS managers to follow up on those allegations. Specifically, in situations involving alleged harassment, including sexual harassment, I expect NPS managers to initiate an investigation of the allegations and to act promptly to ensure that the harassment, if confirmed, does not continue. I also expect appropriate disciplinary action to be taken if any allegations are verified. To ensure that this can happen consistently across our organization, I have asked a leadership team in Washington, with input from regions, parks and programs, to develop a roadmap that will guide these efforts."
During his talk Monday to the National Press Club, Director Jarvis said that a survey to be taken later this year of NPS staff would help managers determine how best to approach, and tackle, the problem of sexual harassment and misconduct.
"First and foremost we need to establish a baseline of how prevalent this is in the National Park Service. I honestly don’t know, and we’re not going to know until we do a well-crafted survey of all employees that’s done with protection of anonymity," he said. “Once we establish that baseline then we can understand more specifically how to take action. We are jumping on top of any, obviously, reports right now, and I’ve set a standard with my senior leadership of what I expect how to implement a zero tolerance policy in terms of quick action, protection of the victim, and zero tolerance for this work for this horrible component."
He assured the press club audience that the hotline would be designed to permit employees to file complaints about their immediate supervisors, if necessary, and not suffer consequences on the job.
During the Q&A period, Director Jarvis touched on a wide-ranging number of topics:
* The Park Service's $12 Billion Maintenance Backlog
"We understand our maintenance backlog at sort of an excruciating level of detail. We really, really know this down to the brick," he said. "So about half of our backlog is in what I would call the transportation side. So that is the roads-and-bridges piece. That is not an easy thing to raise philanthropic money for. That’s something that is the responsibility of the (congressional) appropriators, and we do get a significant amount of funding out of the transportation bill. And there is now a five-year bill to address high priority roads and bridges in the National Park System.
"The other half, which I would call non-transportation assets, about half of that are what I call high priority assets; these are those that are directly related to the visitor experience, or of high significance value. The Lincoln Memorial, for instance. A nice little asset that you might consider a high priority asset of the National Park Service. In some cases, those we can raise philanthropic dollars for, and certainly all of you know that we have had significant contributions from individuals like David Rubenstein to repair those as well.
"And we have a campaign with the National Park Foundation to address many of those issues. But we are also going to need a steady supply of federal appropriations, and we have asked the Congress to respond to that. We have centennial legislation before them that would give us greater flexibility with our existing revenues, such as fees, and generate some new revenues that we could address the maintenance backlog.”
* On Recognizing Sponsors And Donors To The National Parks
“First of all, we have always had relationships with corporate America. From the very beginning of the national parks," said Director Jarvis. "It was the railroads that built most of the major lodges, the old historic lodges, like the El Tovar (at Grand Canyon). And throughout my 40 years we’ve had long-term relationships with corporate America without selling out. Without renaming, or, 'This park brought to you by...' We just don’t do that. We sit down with corporate America and say, 'What are your goals?, these are our goals. This is an area you can’t go, and we’re not going to allow that.'
“I think you should trust us that we are protecting these assets from branding and labeling. It is not the direction we’re headed. What we’re trying to do is sort of modernize our philanthropic capability for the Service, for the National Park Foundation, and all of the friends groups that raise money for us.”
* On Congress's Love-Hate Relationship With The National Park Service
"I’ll probably get in trouble for telling this story, but when I go on the Hill regularly to meet with members of Congress, there has been, historically, bipartisan support for the national parks. A long tradition of great support, both sides of the aisle," he said. "Sometimes different priorities. When I go and testify before a committee, there’s a lot of sort of finger pointing and accusations made about the national parks, but when I go into the offices of certain individuals, they pull down the shades and they get out their park pass and want me to sign it.
"And they tell me their latest national park trip story. So part of the issue, in my estimation, is that there is a sort of a political agenda around that nothing in government is good, and it’s hard to admit that, if you say that, that there is this aspect of government that they actually like, which is the national parks."
* On "Overcrowding" Some Parks Are Experiencing
“We are experiencing record levels of vistiation, as a result of the centennial, the Find Your Park campaign, our outreach, the media coverage, all of that. This past year, 2015, the last year we kept record, we surpassed 312 million visitors," said Director Jarvis. "Let me put that in perspective: That is more than all of Disney, more than all of national football, national baseball, national basketball, soccer, NASCAR, combined. And we do it on a budget (equal to) the city of Austin, Texas.
"The way I view this is when the public comes to national parks, something happens. Yes, it can be somewhat overwhelming for our employees, which is the state of the art right now. But you are deepening that connection, and that connection translates into support, as a volunteer, as an advocate, through a variety of advocacy groups out there, friends groups at the local level, support to Congress, and so I think there is an upside to the visitation side. And it also is inviting a generation that perhaps didn’t know about these places. Our goal is not to just raise the numbers, but to increase the diversity of that visitation as well.”
* On The Threat Posed By The Zika Virus
“We certainly haven’t gotten to the point of considering closure (of parks), but we definitely feel that Zika is going to be a significant problem in the southern tier parks. The Eveglades, Biscayne, Big Thicket, a number of these areas, Dry Tortugas, these are all southern tier parks that have large mosquito populations," Director Jarvis said. "This particular species (Ae. albopictus) is not really a species that breeds in the water of the Everglades, it’s much more of a human contact species. But we have been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention specifically on information for the public and information for our own employees who work in those environments as well.”
You can watch his entire talk here: