Interior Dept. Cuts More than 1,500 Employees for Harassment and Misconduct

‘Under my leadership we’re going to hold people accountable…’

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke/PHOTO: Gage Skidmore (CC)

(Kaylee McGhee, Liberty Headlines) The Interior Department cut more than 1,500 employees for harassment or misconduct this past year, according to an internal email obtained by The Hill.

Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt told employees in the email that the suspensions, reprimands and firings were part of a larger effort to increase accountability within the government.

The email, sent on Wednesday with the subject line “A Situational Update,” informed staff of a new action plan meant to further reduce inappropriate behavior in the department.

An ethics program is necessary for the health and growth of the department, Bernhardt said.

“From day one, [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke and I have been committed to leaving the Department in better shape than we found it; this includes addressing employee misconduct and harassment and improving our ethics program,” Bernhardt wrote in the email.

Bernhardt and Zinke started rolling out this plan in April, releasing a comprehensive policy on the Prevention and Elimination of Harassing Conduct, and asking employees to come forward if they noticed or experienced inappropriate behavior.

“Despite these efforts, we can only take action when we are aware of misconduct or unethical behavior. For this to happen, employees have to be willing to come forward. I want you to know that your leadership is listening, and we are committed to holding individuals accountable when they have failed in their duties and obligations,” Bernhardt wrote.

Last December, a survey conducted by the Interior Department found that 35 percent of its employees had complained of harassment or discrimination in the previous 12 months.

But before the department’s new policy, many of these cases no action was taken and individuals were encouraged to drop the complaints.

“All employees have the right to work in an environment that is safe and harassment-free,” Zinke said earlier this month. “I’ve removed a number of people who were abusive or acted improperly that other administrations were too afraid to or just turned a blind eye to. Under my leadership we’re going to hold people accountable.”