Evaluation of the Department’s Handling of Sexual Harassment Reports

ESP-20-06
    Report Contents
    Unclassified
    Unclassified


    What OIG Reviewed
    The Department of State (Department) is required by the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) to promptly address and investigate reports of sexual harassment. The Department’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security Office of Special Investigations (OSI) are responsible for investigating reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault. The Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) reviews sexual harassment investigations and determines the appropriate disciplinary action, if any, for cases that OCR and OSI refer. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an evaluation of the Department’s handling of sexual harassment reports. Specifically, OIG reviewed (1) the extent to which employees report sexual harassment; (2) how the Department addresses employees’ reports of sexual harassment; and (3) the extent to which the Department ensures consistent outcomes for individuals who were found to have engaged in sexual harassment. Because the FAM definition of sexual harassment encompasses sexual assault as well, OIG took the same approach and separately discussed sexual assault only if the Department’s own policies or procedures did so.

    What OIG Recommends
    OIG made six recommendations to the Department related to updating supervisory guidance to include reporting sexual harassment; developing and implementing guidance for coordinating sexual harassment cases; developing and implementing timeliness standards; and developing and implementing a common tracking mechanism for the length to resolution and outcomes of sexual harassment reports. The Department concurred with all of the recommendations.

    What OIG Found
    OCR received 636 reports of sexual harassment from 2014 to 2017. However, sexual harassment is likely underreported at the Department. According to an OIG survey of direct-hire employees selected on a random basis, 47 percent of employees who stated that they had experienced or observed sexual harassment within the last 2 years responded that they did not report the harassment to OCR or OSI.

    The Department has taken steps to address sexual harassment but lacks coordination and guidance on the investigative and disciplinary processes for these reports. The Department does not have joint guidance that coordinates OCR, OSI, and GTM’s Conduct, Suitability, and Discipline Division (CSD) activities throughout the investigation and disciplinary review of sexual harassment cases and has not updated supervisory guides to include sexual harassment reporting. OCR, OSI, and CSD have internal policies for their roles in the investigative and disciplinary processes for sexual harassment cases, but the policies do not discuss coordination with all relevant bureaus and offices. Because guidance is lacking, coordination among the offices is inconsistent. For example, OIG reviewed 20 sexual harassment cases and found two cases that CSD did not review for discipline because of inconsistent coordination.

    Additionally, the Department lacks data on the consistency of the investigative and disciplinary processes. For example, OIG could not assess the timeliness of sexual harassment cases from 2014 to 2017 as CSD and OCR did not have timeliness standards that guided work on sexual harassment reports. Additionally, OIG could not assess the length and outcomes of sexual harassment cases during the same timeframe because the Department does not have a mechanism to consistently track outcomes of sexual harassment reports.

    Recommendation Number
    1
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that GTM, in conjunction with OCR and OSI, develop and implement guidance that coordinates activities for referring harassment cases (including sexual harassment cases) to GTM. Specifically, the guidance should address: (a) when and how to refer a case and (b) the investigative documentation necessary to make a disciplinary decision. GTM, OCR, and OSI should include stakeholders, such as L/EMP and OIG, in the development of this guidance.

    Recommendation Number
    2
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that OCR notify posts, bureaus, and offices at the beginning of sexual harassment investigations in accordance with OCR policy.

    Recommendation Number
    3
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that GTM update the guides for supervisors of Foreign Service and civil service employees so that they contain the latest Department guidance on disciplinary issues, including sexual harassment generally and the obligation for supervisors to report sexual harassment.

    Recommendation Number
    4
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that OCR formalize its newly established timeliness standards for investigating reports of sexual harassment and assess whether the office is able to meet the standards.

    Recommendation Number
    5
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that GTM establish and implement timeliness standards for determining discipline for sexual harassment cases.

    Recommendation Number
    6
    Closed Implemented

    OIG recommends that GTM, in conjunction with OCR and OSI, as well as other relevant stakeholders, develop and implement a common mechanism for tracking the length and outcomes (such as disciplinary actions) of sexual harassment allegations.