Leadership Corner

Working with the Office of Inspector General to change our culture

March 8th, 2019 at 12:45PM

Photo: Portrait of Vicki Christiansen in front of American & Forest Service flags.
Chief Vicki Christiansen, USDA Forest Service

It is my firm belief that all USDA Forest Service work begins with a safe, harassment-free workplace. I also believe that our greatest asset at the Forest Service is our employees. Everything we do—every part of our mission—depends on having a workplace where each one of us can thrive in our work, free from harassment and safe from harm.

Recently, USDA’s Office of Inspector General completed an audit of our efforts to improve our work environment after employees shared personal accounts of sexual harassment they experienced in the Pacific Southwest Region. The audit officially began two years ago, in June 2017. This audit, and our response, are only part of a larger, agency-wide effort to permanently end all forms of harassment and retaliation.

Prior to this audit, we took action to confront harassment and retaliation in the Forest Service head-on. We hired an independent outside contractor to handle sexual misconduct investigations, created a system for holding employees accountable, issued new harassment reporting requirements, tightened our anti-harassment policy, and added sexual harassment and reporting training and performance requirements for supervisors.

The audit of our early actions is an opportunity to assess our progress so we can make adjustments and continue to improve. During the audit, the Forest Service cooperated fully and transparently with OIG. OIG’s assessment included numerous interviews with leaders and employees as well as reviews of many related documents and meetings. Following each phase of the audit, agency leaders welcomed candid feedback from OIG on its initial findings and recommendations.

But we went beyond the 2017 audit, taking additional actions to create a safe, harassment-free workplace agency-wide. We held a national Stand Up for Each Other engagement and training session for 40,000 employees, launched a new call center for harassment reporting, instituted a new code of conduct, and created a new performance measure on work environment for every supervisor. Last fall, we tapped Leslie Weldon to be the new Senior Executive for the Work Environment and Performance Office, where she is guiding all the work done so far and keeping it at the forefront of everything we do.

Our full participation in the audit reflects our commitment to fully review, understand and use the results to improve our work environment agency-wide. We concurred with all recommendations, completed implementation on several of the recommendations, and will work closely with OIG to ensure we are fulfilling their guidance. In short, we are personally committed to permanently changing our agency’s culture.

Our greatest asset at the Forest Service is our employees. Everything we do—every part of our mission—depends on having a workplace where every one of us is able to thrive. I thank you all for what you have done so far and continue doing every day for the Forest Service. Keep doing excellent work and fostering the workplace environment we all need and deserve.

Click here for supplemental information on the OIG report, including our response to each recommendation.