FEMA taking ‘decisive action’ in light of ‘disturbing’ sexual harassment investigation

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is making several changes after a recent internal investigation uncovered a series of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations against one of the organization’s top former senior executives.

The Washington Post first reported the details of the internal investigation, which involved former Chief Component Human Capital Officer Corey Coleman. Coleman resigned in June, according to the Post.

FEMA has asked the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General to further investigate lapses of “professional responsibility, which the agency’s administrator, Brock Long, described as “deeply disturbing.”

“Anyone who disagrees with this zero tolerance approach will not be welcome at FEMA,” Long said Monday in a statement. “Employees at FEMA devote their careers to caring for disaster survivors in their time of greatest need. We must care for our own with the same respect, compassion and advocacy that we bring to our external operations.”

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In light of the investigation, Long announced the creation of a new Office of Professional Responsibility, which will take in, follow up and resolve allegations of employee misconduct.

An outside entity will review FEMA’s current practices for managing and dealing with employee misconduct, with a special focus on sexual harassment cases, the agency said.

In addition, the agency will provide counseling and wellness advisers to all “FEMA employees who may not have received the support they needed in the past,” Long said.

FEMA’s Office of Equal Rights will examine all open sexual harassment and misconduct complaints, and a team of independent contractors will help the agency double back and review past cases that employees felt weren’t properly addressed.

The agency will also require all employees to take an in-person training session on sexual harassment prevention and reporting from a third-party administrator.

Training, counseling and the creation of a new office to review employee misconduct will happen immediately, Long said. But the internal investigation will likely continue for some time.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is also preparing to pursue these incidents.

“The revelations in today’s FEMA report are deeply alarming,” committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said in a statement. “Any agency employee, much less the top human resources official, engaging in pervasive harassment, bullying and gross misconduct is disturbing and enraging. It is equally concerning this behavior was allowed to continue for so long.”

Committee leadership said they had originally planned to hold a hearing next week on FEMA’s report, but both Gowdy and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said they’ve decided to wait until the agency finishes its full investigation. In a joint statement released Monday night, both pledged to hold a hearing later to review all of FEMA’s findings and determine what role Congress “can play in assuring this never happens again.”

Gowdy also encouraged federal employees who have witnessed misconduct or harassment to report their experiences to the oversight committee.

It won’t be the first time that the oversight committee becomes involved with allegations of sexual harassment at a federal agency.

The committee grilled top leaders at the National Park Service last year about its hostile work environment and pervasive culture of misconduct. The agency launched an employee survey on the topic, which found 39  percent of NPS employees had experienced harassment or discrimination in 2016. More than 10 percent of the agency’s employees had experienced sexual harassment.