Promoting an Ethical Culture at Interior

Last edited 09/29/2021

The Department of the Interior is entrusted with a vast and unique mission that gives each of us the opportunity to do meaningful work for the benefit of our fellow Americans.  As Interior Secretary, I have the great privilege of traveling across America’s varied landscapes to witness firsthand the impact of your tireless efforts.  I am continually inspired by the commitment and enthusiasm you have for our important mission and I appreciate your candor in discussing the difficult challenges you face.  

Despite those challenges, you show respect for and commitment to our Nation’s First People; you steward and protect our land, water, and wildlife while supporting a strong economy; you further our scientific knowledge so we can make smart, informed decisions about our shared home, Planet Earth; and you share our expertise and support around the globe.

Whether it is in Indian Country, the insular areas, the national parks, the wildlife refuge system, our public lands, the Outer Continental Shelf, western watersheds, research centers, science labs, office buildings scattered across the country, or the countless other places we do business, your work matters to millions of people.  I am proud of you and feel fortunate to be your colleague.

The honor of serving our country as Federal employees also comes with very serious responsibilities, including the obligation to perform our duties with integrity and to the highest ethical standards.  There have been a number of recent reports, including investigations completed by Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, identifying instances in which some members of the Department have behaved unethically, violated rules, or engaged in serious misconduct. 

While the vast majority of the Department’s 70,000 employees work hard and play by the rules, such lapses in judgment or outright misconduct reflect poorly on the Department as a whole, divert resources from our important missions, and are not acceptable.  Accordingly, I am addressing this message to every member of the Department so that my expectations are absolutely clear.  

First, everyone must obey the rules, protect taxpayer resources, and comply with the ethical responsibilities expected of all Federal employees.  I understand there sometimes are gray areas in the real world.  Therefore, when you have any doubt about how to comply with the rules regarding hiring and workplace matters, procurement, ethics, scientific integrity, or other issues, you are encouraged to seek guidance from your supervisor, procurement professionals, human resources, the Solicitor’s Office, the ethics office, or other experts as appropriate.

Second, everyone must respect their co-workers and members of the public.  Each of us is a valuable member of the Department, and has a responsibility to treat those around us with courtesy, respect, and dignity.  I am particularly troubled by reports of sexual harassment and mistreatment of people in the workplace.  As a Department, we have no tolerance for this type of conduct, which is poisonous to the workplace, demeaning and damaging to the affected individuals, and completely out of line with our values.  I have spoken with senior Department and Bureau leadership about ways to better understand the scope of this problem within the Department.  Systematically addressing sexual harassment at the Interior Department is a priority.

Third, everyone has a responsibility to report ethical violations and misconduct, and the law provides protection for individuals who make such reports.  Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate to report concerns to your supervisor, Department or Bureau leadership, the ethics office, or the Inspector General.  We must all unite in our commitment not to ignore or turn a blind eye to problems that occur in our midst.

Finally, retaliation or taking adverse action against someone who raises concerns about potential misconduct or unethical behavior will not be tolerated.  Retaliation is expressly prohibited by the law, and it runs counter to the culture of compliance and ethical responsibility that is expected of the Department and all employees.

I want to reiterate that the vast majority of the Department’s workforce takes their public service responsibilities very seriously, and I admire and appreciate the work you do on behalf of all Americans.

Thank you for your personal commitment to creating a positive, respectful, ethical workplace that upholds our values and mission.

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