The Bureau of Indian Affairs steps up its harassment policy

Timeframes for responding to allegations and more show improvements from ‘zero tolerance’ rhetoric.

 

Following reports of high rates of sexual and racial harassment at the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a new harassment policy is in place.
U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs

In recent years, the U.S. Department of the Interior has faced mounting criticism over its failure to address employee harassment in the workplace. The Bureau of Indian Affairs began a new, more rigorous policy in April 2018, but did not release it publicly. After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request and an appeal, however, NewTowncarShare News received the new policy, published in full below.

The 14-page policy shows improvements in its definition of harassment, broadening the term to include “unwelcome conduct, verbal or physical, including intimidation, ridicule, insult, comments.” The goal, the policy states, is to “hold employees accountable at the earliest possible stage, before the conduct rises to the level of harassment within the meaning of anti-discriminatory law.” As a report released by House Democrats in January 2018 showed, the BIA and overall Interior policy lacked a clear condemnation of retaliation, as well as a clear definition of what constitutes harassment. 

The policy comes after a department-wide survey in 2017 that showed high rates of harassment regarding race, age, gender and more. Overall, 35% of DOI’s employees, or 21,357 people, reported being harassed in the previous 12 months. Rates were especially high within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, at 40%, Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians at 38%, and the National Park Service at 39%. The three agencies also ranked the highest for rates of sexual harassment.

That harassment reached to the highest levels within the department. In 2018, just six months into his tenure, Bureau of Indian Affairs Director Bryan Rice resigned amid allegations of abusive behavior, a NewTowncarShare News investigation revealed. A few days before his resignation, the new harassment policy went into effect. But when NewTowncarShare News requested a copy of the new policy, a Bureau of Indian Affairs spokesperson responded that HCN would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request. After nearly three months of no response, HCN filed an appeal. Two and half weeks later, the BIA sent the policy. 

“These policies are really specific in nature,” said Brandi Liberty, who works with tribal governments to address sexual harassment through Morning Star Consulting, and who reviewed the policy for HCN. “(They leave) little room for error with management and upper-level directors to deviate from ensuring victim safety and harasser accountability.” 

The report is clear about what constitutes harassment, though Liberty says it could be improved by offering resources for support services, such as counseling. Below are highlights from the new policy.

  1. It institutes time frames for responding to allegations.

The policy sets deadlines for supervisors, managers and human resources officers to meet when responding to allegations, notifying upper management, and beginning investigations. Managers have one business day after becoming “aware” of harassing conduct to notify their own supervisors or the alleged victim’s supervisors to report the harassment. Past investigations have shown that pervasive harassment tends to continue when managers do not take action after hearing of allegations. That was the case in an investigation into a BIA employee who sexually harassed employees and tribal members of the Colorado River Indian Tribes for two years, while BIA managers and HR officers knew but did not act.

Within three days of receiving an allegation, supervisors have to consult with the Office of Solicitor or Human Resources Offices to determine whether an investigation is needed. If so, the investigative process starts within two days. There is no deadline for the length of an investigation. 

  1. It creates an ombudsman position for the agency.

In June 2018, the policy notes, Acting Director of Bureau of Indian Affairs Darryl LaCounte announced the creation of an ombudsman to serve as a confidential resource for BIA employees navigating the reporting process. Ombudsman Brian Bloch is charged with providing the BIA with feedback on areas of concerns and “potential weaknesses in the system.” Bloch is also the ombudsman for seven other Interior Department agencies, including the Bureau of Indian Education and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. 

  1. If misconduct is found, the policy requires supervisors to propose disciplinary or corrective action.

In the BIA survey from 2017, just 1.8% of respondents who were harassed said that some official career action was taken against the harasser. The majority of the time, respondents had to continue working with their harasser. The most recent policy outlines corrective action, ranging from reprimands to suspensions to termination. It also includes that if employees are unsure about what conduct is allowed, they should receive training. 

Both Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Capital and Diversity Edward T. Keable have promised webinars and trainings to familiarize employees with the new policy.

To view the full policy, see below or click here.

Anna V. Smith is an assistant editor for NewTowncarShare News. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editorFollow @annavtoriasmith

Republish Print
NewTowncarShare News Classifieds
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Live in a spectacular part of the West and work with great people to build power and win! The Western Organization of Resource Councils is...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR - MONTANA WATERSHED COORDINATION COUNCIL
    About MWCC: The Montana Watershed Coordination Council (MWCC) is a dynamic network advancing the Watershed Approach to conservation across Montana. The Watershed Approach is a...
  • COALITION FOR THE UPPER SOUTH PLATTE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    http://cusp.ws/jobs
  • MOUNTAIN BIKE HEAVEN!
    Home For Sale $320,000. Apple Valley, UT. It is in a very quiet, peaceful part of the county and has the dark night sky. It...
  • GENTLE WILD HORSES NEED HOMES
    Jicarilla Mustang Heritage Alliance gentles and finds homes for mustangs. With every day, more homes are needed for wonderful loving horses. Can you Save a...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Colorado Conservancy is seeking an innovative and dynamic Executive Director to build on growing regional impact within the current strategic plan. This is a...
  • WESTERN MONTANA FIELD COORDINATOR
    Job Title: Western Montana Field Coordinator Reports to: Programs and Partnerships Director Compensation: $33,000 - $37,000, plus competitive health benefits, retirement savings, and vacation leave....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Please send a resume and cover letter including salary requirements to [email protected] The Madison River Foundation is a fast growing, non-profit that preserves, protects, and...
  • CAMPAIGN OUTREACH ASSISTANT - SALMON AND STEELHEAD
    The Campaign Outreach Assistant will be responsible for grassroots efforts to organize, empower and mobilize supporters to take action in support of ICL's salmon and...
  • OWN YOUR DREAM - TAOS BIKE SHOP FOR SALE
    Gearing Up, well established, profitable, full service bicycle shop. MLS #103930. Contact: 435-881-3741.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • PLANNING MANAGER - FORT COLLINS NATURAL AREAS
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Colorado Canyons Association seeks an Executive Director to join a motivated board of directors, an experienced staff, and a strong national following at an important...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • LOOKING FOR EXPERIENCED FARMER
    for 25-year certified organic vegetable farm. Business arrangements flexible. 7 acres raised beds. Excellent infrastructure. NW Montana. Contact: [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM NM MOUNTAIN VALLEY HOME
    Home/horse property on 22.8 acres, pasture & ponderosa pines, near Mora, NM. Views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Near fishing, skiing, back-country hiking. Taos...
  • CLIMATE EDUCATION & STEWARDSHIP PROGRAM MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a wildly enthusiastic person to develop curriculum and educational, stewardship, and ecological restoration goals for a new grant-funded program.
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE, INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES INITIATIVE, NOVO FOUNDATION
    About NoVo Foundation NoVo Foundation acts from the original meaning of philanthropy: the love of humanity. The Foundation is dedicated to catalyzing a global social...
  • SEEKING ORGANIC FARMER/RANCHER TENANT
    Large garden, current garlic production, small cottage, barn cats, small herd of livestock, poultry flock; some experience necessary; Union, OR. Contact: [email protected]