A House committee is holding its second hearing in as many years on sexual misconduct, assault and retaliation within the U.S. Forest Service.
The House Oversight Committee hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET today. Watch the hearing in the player above.
In interviews with the PBS NewsHour last year, 34 women who worked for the Forest Service across multiple regions described a workplace culture that was hostile to women, and an agency that often fell short in properly addressing complaints of harassment and assault. When women reported inappropriate behavior, they were often retaliated against, the women said, through loss of job duties, bullying or additional harassment.
The NewsHour’s reporting also uncovered misconduct allegations against chief Tony Tooke, who resigned as the agency’s leader days after that investigation aired. The Forest Service told the NewsHour then that it had “engaged an independent investigator” to look into the claims against Tooke. It’s not clear what the outcome of that investigation was, or whether it has continued. Tooke said at the time that he had been forthright but “cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media” and that the best thing to do was “make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.”
In March, after Tooke stepped down, an interim report from the USDA Office of Inspector General recommended that the agency obtain outside investigators to field complaints because they found that employees didn’t trust the formal reporting process. Vicki Christiansen, who was named interim chief after Tooke’s departure and officially assumed the role in October, also enacted a 30-day “action plan,” which included “employee listening sessions” to address harassment and retaliation in the workplace. This followed other actions by the agency since its first hearing before the House committee in late 2016, including the creation of a harassment reporting center with a toll-free hotline in November of last year. The OIG was expected to release a final report by the end of this year.
But testimony submitted to the committee Thursday indicates that problems with misconduct and retaliation continue.
Among those who will testify Thursday is former Forest Service employee Shannon Reed, who claims she was fired in part for reporting harassment and misconduct, including from Tooke himself.
In an open letter submitted to the committee, about 60 current and past Forest Service employees also said the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service “continue to ignore our complaints and continue this culture of abuse,” despite concerns from Congress, coverage of the problems in the news media and changes made by the agency.
Christiansen and U.S. Department of Agriculture Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong are also expected to provide testimony in Thursday’s hearing.
- After shake-up over sexual misconduct in the Forest Service, new chief says there’s progress. Dozens of women say there’s not enough
- They reported sexual harassment. Then the retaliation began.
- Rape, harassment and retaliation in the U.S. Forest Service: Women firefighters tell their stories
- WATCH: 3 women recount years of harassment in the Forest Service
- Forest Service acknowledges ‘we have more work to do’ to address sexual harassment
The PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.