Leadership Corner

Reinforcing our commitment to a safe work environment for all

November 16th, 2018 at 2:00PM

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

Yesterday, I testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about our efforts to improve our work environment at the Forest Service. The hearing was an instance of Congress living up to its oversight responsibilities, in this case by reviewing the steps we are taking to improve our work environment. 

I took the opportunity to renew my pledge that the Forest Service has zero tolerance for harassment or retaliation of any kind. I emphasized that the Forest Service investigates all claims thoroughly and with due process. I also talked about the actions we have taken and will take to improve our work environment. I welcomed the opportunity to answer questions from the committee, and I received good feedback on our work. The committee stressed the importance of setting standards to measure our effectiveness in improving our work environment. 

I asked for help and received the committee’s pledge to support us in creating a safe and respectful work environment for all. Congress can help us overcome certain legal barriers, such as:

  • untangling the Privacy Act so we can share more details about closed cases and become more transparent in how we are holding people accountable, and
  • allowing our hiring managers to see prior disciplinary actions for applicants so we can prevent bad actors from moving around in our agency or coming back in new positions.

I made clear that I am determined to lead permanent change in the Forest Service. The vast majority of our employees live up to the highest standards of public service, and I was proud to represent you in this hearing, because I know you too are leading the change we need.

We in Forest Service leadership are listening to you! You have told us that our investigations lack transparency and that inconsistencies in the way we hold people accountable have diminished your trust in supervisors.

We want to regain that trust. I have been in public service for 38 years—my entire career—and I personally know what it means to encounter harassment and discrimination in the workplace. Based on my own experience, I am personally committed to creating a safe, respectful work environment where everyone is valued for their contributions. I cannot emphasize the importance of this work enough, and we do it not just for today’s employees but also for the children of tomorrow, who should all be able to regard the Forest Service as an agency of choice for everyone, no matter who they are.

So I can promise you this: We will hold the course until we are certain that we have created lasting change.

If you would like to see my testimony to the committee in more depth, you can find my opening statement, submitted testimony and PowerPoint, “Accomplishments and Future Actions to Improve the Work Environment,” on our intranet.

Again, we must do more if we want lasting results. I am committed to this effort, and I know that you are as well.