National Park Service Deputy Director Michael Reynolds has announced the appointment of two "Ombuds" for the National Park Service who will play a role in the agency's efforts to root out and end discrimination, harassment, and retaliation from the National Park Service and "provide every employee with a safe and respectful work environment."
"The Ombuds is an independent, impartial, informal, and confidential resource now available to every NPS employee. The NPS Ombuds team will help to ensure that employee concerns, particularly those that are complex, contentious, and controversial, are being raised (with employee permission) to leadership at the earliest opportunity and without fear of reprisal," Deputy Director Reynolds wrote in a system-wide email. "Managers and employees alike benefit from a safe place to openly discuss the most sensitive of issues and identify possible solutions that benefit both employees and the organization."
The decision to create the roles rose out of a long-running chapter of sexual harassment among Park Service employees in Grand Canyon National Park. Since that matter became public, the specter of confirmed or alleged sexual harassment has been raised at Canaveral National Seashore and Yellowstone National Park.
"Effectively immediately, Scott Deyo and Sigal Shoham will be serving as the NPS Ombuds team. Both have extensive experience and operate with the highest degree of integrity and professionalism," Deputy Director Reynolds said in his message. "Through the Ombuds team, you can now raise a full range of workplace issues, including concerns about harassment, without attribution or fear of reprisal. The Ombuds will explore the full range of concerns and possible resolution options in a prompt, thorough, impartial, and consistent manner."
The Ombuds will work to engage "employees at all levels by creating a safe place to discuss concerns, understand all sides of issues, and explore innovative ways to change and sustain improvements. Ombuds strictly adhere to standards of confidentiality and will not reveal your identity, except in instances of imminent harm, such as threats to self or others."
The deputy director stressed that the Ombuds office is not an investigative arm of the Park Service, nor "part of any formal grievance or complaint process." Rather, "it is a tool to address individual conflicts and to highlight opportunities for NPS-wide improvements."
Mr. Deyo and Ms. Shoham will be visiting parks across the National Park System to meet with employees and garner information "about strengths and successes, areas of concern, potential cracks in the system, and innovative opportunities for positive change."
Meanwhile, there was a congressional hearing last week into similar allegations of sexual harassment within the U.S. Forest Service. During the hearing before the U.S. House Of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the Forest Service was accused by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the committee's ranking member, of long ignoring complaints of harassment.
"For more than 40 years, the Forest Service has repeatedly faced litigation alleging discrimination against female employees. A lawsuit filed in the early 1970s and another lawsuit filed in the mid-1990s each resulted in long-term consent decrees," the Democrat charged. "Despite the changes required by those consent decrees, we continue to receive disturbing allegations of discrimination and retaliation 40 years after the first lawsuit.
"It is long past time for the Forest Service to finally break its toxic cycle of sue, settle, and backslide."