WASHINGTON — Thousands of the Interior Department’s employees reported that they had experienced harassment or intimidation at work, a department-wide survey conducted earlier this year and released Thursday found.
Of the nearly 30,000 employees who reported on their experiences, about 35 percent said they felt some form of harassment and intimidation, often related to their age or gender. More than 85 percent of those employees said they had to continue to interact with the person responsible for the mistreatment.
“This is a breach of public trust,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in an interview, adding that he had personally fired four people over accusations of harassment. “Harassment — intimidation — is a cancer that can destroy even the best organizations.”
In the survey, 8 percent of employees reported sexual harassment, 20 percent reported negative treatment based on their age and 16 percent based on their sex. About 44 percent of the department’s 70,000 employees responded to the survey.
“It has to start from the top,” Mr. Zinke said. “But we have to remove this cancer immediately because it is distracting from our ability to successfully carry out our mission.”
Department officials are working to strengthen the policies on harassment based on the survey results, and have trained about 100 employees on how to conduct investigations into allegations.
Over the last decade, the Interior Department has primarily been dogged by reports of harassment and intimidation within the National Park Service. More than a quarter of the nearly 10,000 park employees who responded had experienced or witnessed some form of harassment, officials said in a portion of the survey released earlier this year.
The survey also demonstrated the lack of consequences when allegations of harassment or intimidation were reported to managers within the Interior Department. While 76 percent of the respondents said they took action if they witnessed an abuse of power, roughly 40 percent said either the person they told took no action or they felt encouraged to drop the issue.
Following the survey results, David Bernhardt, the agency’s deputy secretary, said he would require department heads to develop ways to address the issues reported in each bureau before the end of January.
The agency, which includes the Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management, has also revised management evaluation forms to account for a failure to address allegations of harassment among employees.
“Intimidation, harassment, and discrimination are viruses within an operation, and have no place at Interior,” Mr. Bernhardt said in a statement. “The culture across the department will change.”
Allegations of harassment have recently rocked industries across the country, including Congress, Hollywood, the news media and top-tier restaurants.
But Interior officials noted that the survey, which they say is the first of its scope across the federal departments, was conducted during the first three months of the year, ahead of the onslaught of accusations and resignations.
“People know it’s there, but it’s either accepted or it’s ignored,” Mr. Zinke said. “The right things were said, but no action was taken.”
Mr. Zinke declined to comment on the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct facing President Trump, refusing to comment on what he called “media speculation and hype.” More than a dozen women have said they experienced some form of harassment from Mr. Trump before his candidacy, ranging from crude remarks to groping.
Under Sally Jewell, the Interior secretary under President Barack Obama, investigators found a 15-year-failure to address numerous reports of abuse and harassment in the Grand Canyon River District, including male workers trying to take intimate photos of female colleagues, groping and physical assault, and withholding food on river trips after sexual advances were rejected. The district was shut down afterward.
The superintendent of Yosemite National Park also announced his retirement, before Mr. Zinke’s confirmation as secretary, after a congressional oversight committee found that at least 18 employees at the park had complained of a toxic work environment rife with bullying, discrimination and harassment.