YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – Yellowstone National Park is part of a nationwide federal investigation into the National Park Service for sexual misconduct and mismanagement, according to a congressional committee.
A full house committee on oversight and government reform met Thursday to discuss the widespread allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment of female employees at Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon National Park and Canaveral National Seashore.
Other parks are also being investigated.
Several letters were admitted for testimony at Thursday’s hearing, including a letter from Yellowstone National Park employee Robert Hester who described himself as a seasonal truck driver hired at the park in 2010, later advancing to the Special Projects Division.
In his letter, Hester described an environment that accepted sexual exploitation of female workers at YNP. “It was like a men’s only club,” wrote Hester.
Hester described one woman in his department who he said never worked and was kept drunk by his supervisor, who was in a relationship with the woman. Hester said the Special Project Chief of Maintenance, the head supervisor, was aware of the relationship and allowed it to continue.
Similar allegations have been made by a number of employees across the NPS, who claim that top supervisors were aware of sexual abuse and misconduct but did not put a stop to it. In some cases, women who did not comply were retaliated against.
Hester said the woman in a relationship with his supervisor eventually had a nervous breakdown due to how she was being treated and was terminated shortly thereafter.
In the letter, Hester also described seeing open sexual groping committed against female employees by department heads.
Hester also alleged financial misconduct, stating that he and another employee were told to violate federal credit card rules and regulations in regard to the purchase of repair parts and maintenance.
When he asked his supervisor how no one ended up getting caught stealing from the NPS, Hester was apparently told that someone higher up always take the responsibility.
The allegations made by Hester are echoed by several other park employees in at least six individual testimonies across the NPS.
These claims are the basis of a federal investigation by the Interior Office of Inspector General, which recently found several instances of sexual misconduct and unethical behavior throughout the NPS.
The investigation determined that this problem of sexual harassment dates back possibly more than a decade.
One female employee at Yosemite National Park reported that she had been spied on by a male park ranger while taking a shower.
“I told my supervisor,” said the woman. “It was very, very difficult for me to do,”
The woman said her supervisors had her sit down with them and the perpetrator and he apologized to her and was allowed to continue working.
“It didn’t feel like a zero tolerance policy for me,” said the woman. “There are a lot of other women out there that I represent that a lot of these same things have happened to. And they fear that management won’t take action and we go on to become victims again.”
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told the woman she should never have to choose between her career and justice.
“[W]hen you have a fact pattern of someone spying on another person while they are taking a shower, you don’t need a policy change and you don’t need a new memo — you need handcuffs and a trip to the sex offender registry, that’s what you need,” said Gowdy.
Other members of the committee called the environment across the NPS “toxic” and said more must be done.
“Urgent reforms are needed at the agency in order to hold those guilty of misconduct accountable for their actions,” said the committee in its report.
Officials are now investigating complaints of sexual exploitation, intimidation and retaliation at Yellowstone National Park.