In scandals’ wake, Jewell lectures employees about ethics

By Corbin Hiar | 06/20/2016 01:02 PM EDT

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell sent an all-staff email last week pledging to fight sexual harassment and other misconduct after a recent wave of investigations exposed wrongdoing at the department.

The note, titled "Promoting an Ethical Culture at Interior," came amid increasing congressional scrutiny of the agency and how it deals with ethical violations. She sent it to all 70,000 Interior employees a day after a House hearing in which National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis faced bipartisan criticism over handling of cases of sexual harassment and other malfeasance within his bureau (Greenwire, June 14).

"The honor of serving our country as Federal employees also comes with very serious responsibilities, including the obligation to perform our duties with integrity and to the highest ethical standards," Jewell wrote in the email, which was first reported by The Washington Post.

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She noted that "the vast majority" of Interior employees work hard and play by the rules. But "lapses in judgment or outright misconduct reflect poorly on the Department as a whole, divert resources from our important missions, and are not acceptable. Accordingly, I am addressing this message to every member of the Department so that my expectations are absolutely clear."

The email promoted four ethical practices, starting with the need to follow agency rules.

"I understand there sometimes are gray areas in the real world," she added. "Therefore, when you have any doubt about how to comply with the rules regarding hiring and workplace matters, procurement, ethics, scientific integrity, or other issues, you are encouraged to seek guidance from your supervisor, procurement professionals, human resources, the Solicitor’s Office, the ethics office, or other experts as appropriate."

Jewell also emphasized the need to respect co-workers and the general public.

"I am particularly troubled by reports of sexual harassment and mistreatment of people in the workplace," she said. "As a Department, we have no tolerance for this type of conduct, which is poisonous to the workplace, demeaning and damaging to the affected individuals, and completely out of line with our values."

She highlighted the agency’s commitment to curb sexual harassment, which the Office of Inspector General found was rife at Grand Canyon National Park and Canaveral National Seashore.

"I have spoken with senior Department and Bureau leadership about ways to better understand the scope of this problem within the Department," Jewell wrote. "Systematically addressing sexual harassment at the Interior Department is a priority."

The secretary also called on employees to report any misconduct they see around them.

"We must all unite in our commitment not to ignore or turn a blind eye to problems that occur in our midst," she said.

In the wake of news that three Fish and Wildlife Service supervisors were suspended for retaliating against a whistleblower, Jewell told employees the agency won’t tolerate punishment for people who raise concerns about potential violations.

"Retaliation is expressly prohibited by the law, and it runs counter to the culture of compliance and ethical responsibility that is expected of the Department and all employees," she said.

The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a second hearing on misconduct at Interior later this week (E&E Daily, June 20).

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