Office of Inspector General Asks Victims and Witnesses to Call Hotline: 800-424-5081
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
As the direct result of a news report published in The Montana Pioneer in September about a Scandal in Yellowstone National Park, various federal investigations were alerted to alleged misconduct in Yellowstone National Park and directed investigators to interview the local whistleblower who came forward in the report.
The federal probes now investigating YNP include the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General (OIG) and both Republican and Democrat investigations with the Congressional House Oversight Committee.
The Montana Pioneer news report containing YNP employee Bob Hester’s allegations was specifically cited in the House Oversight Committee’s Sept. 22 hearing on misconduct in the National Park Service. Hester’s written statement, solicited by House investigators from both parties, was then entered into the Congressional record.
Hester alleged that sexual harassment and predatory tactics by supervisors, financial misconduct, fraud, physical abuse, and reprisals were taking place at Yellowstone National Park, drawing the swift attention of the Interior Department OIG, the watchdog agency that oversees federal misconduct. In phone conversations with the Pioneer, OIG specifically referenced Hester and this publication’s exclusive report as having expanded their investigation into Yellowstone.
The House Oversight Committee also responded directly to this publication’s report of Hester’s allegations, contacting our office in search of Hester, so that they might pursue alleged wrongdoing at Yellowstone.
The Oversight Committee had already been investigating and holding hearings on similar scandals at other National Parks—the Grand Canyon River District, where NPS boatmen had been coercing sex from female employees for years, and sexual harassment at Canaveral National Seashore. New revelations before the committee include sexual harassment at Yosemite National Park and the Yellowstone allegations raised by Hester.
At House Oversight Committee hearings in June, NPS Director Jon Jarvis was grilled by committee chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings in an unusual display of bipartisan disgust with Director Jarvis, as he was compelled to admit two dozen cases of sexual harassment, as of then, had taken place at NPS without resulting firings (except of victims) or serious punitive measures.
The Oversight Committee took up other misconduct, including contracts improperly awarded to former Park employees and YNP’s Chief Ranger having violated housing rules—living outside the Park while allowing others to reside at his ranger’s domicile. The Chief Ranger’s punishment, Jarvis said, was a “demotion” to Superintendent of Devil’s Tower National Monument.
Similar “consequences” have been imposed upon other senior NPS perpetrators, according to testimony at the Sept. 22 House Oversight Hearing, where guilty NPS officials were transferred or promoted to other areas of the Park Service after having sexually harassed subordinates, the sordid details of which included a high ranking supervisor having spied on a woman in a shower, according to her testimony.
It was in the context of the scathing June Oversight hearings, in which Chaffetz and others castigated Jarvis to the point of humiliation, that Hester’s interview struck a nerve within the federal government, and, according to one lead investigator with whom we spoke, within NPS.
Hester was then invited to testify before the Congressional Oversight Committee’s Sept. 22 hearing. Unable to travel due to a an injury, he submitted a written statement that became part of the Congressional Record.
Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, questioning NPS Deputy Director of Operations Michael Reynolds, cited the Montana Pioneer report and Bob Hester’s allegations, asking the Director if he was aware of Hester’s Yellowstone allegations, to which Reynolds replied that he was.
An initial indication of the federal response following Hester’s comments in the Pioneer occurred when YNP Superintendent Dan Wenk, after commenting for the report, drove to Livingston to meet with Hester at the Eagles’ Lodge to discuss his published allegations and to solicit names of allegedly guilty parties. Wenk has reportedly met with one or more other YNP employees who also alleged serial misconduct at Yellowstone and reprisals against men and women employees who complained about misconduct.
Wenk informed us that NPS had initially contracted with a third party to investigate the allegations, and we received reports that investigators had visited Mammoth, Wyo., Hester’s area of employment in Yellowstone, as early as the week after Labor Day, but that initial investigation was terminated.
“Upon learning of the allegations reported by The Montana Pioneer,” Superintendent Wenk informed us, “the National Park Service initiated…actions to obtain the services of a third party independent investigator.”
That investigation was to continue for 30 days, Wenk told us, “after the completion of interviews with the employees identified as a result of the article in The Montana Pioneer. That schedule was stopped when I was informed that the Department of Interior Office of the Inspector General would be conducting the investigation.”
By means of a phone conversation with Nancy DiPaolo (Interior Department Director of External Affairs, Office of Inspector General), we learned that the OIG investigation into the Park Service is seeking various sources of information, including news reports, whistleblowers, and information procured over its hotline. Whistleblowers may provide information anonymously or use their names on the record as the investigation continues.
We also learned that an OIG investigator was traveling from Washington, DC, to Livingston, Mont., to meet with Hester and other NPS employees.
DiPaolo encouraged those with knowledge of corruption, misconduct or sexual harassment within Yellowstone National Park, and victims of same, to contact OIG on its hotline or through this publication.
Aware of the reluctance of NPS employees to come forward, DiPaolo told us that “Grand Canyon people (victims or witnesses to abuse in the NPS Grand Canyon River District) were protected and gained strength through our investigation.”
DiPaolo further informed us, though, that NPS Director Jarvis did not refer Grand Canyon NPS abuse to the OIG, and DiPaolo gave us no reason to believe he referred Bob Hester’s allegations to that office for investigation, but that OIG “discovered” Hester’s interview in The Montana Pioneer, furthering the perception that rather than aggressively seeking to punish perpetrators and defend victims, Jarvis has concealed misconduct.
Having already announced his retirement, Jarvis will receive a generous federal pension, as will apparently various employees and supervisors found guilty of abuse on his watch who remain in the Park Service the required number of years.
On Sept. 23, before Congress, NPS Deputy Director Reynolds was not able to cite any firings after dozens of cases of sexual harassment over 16 years, though persons have been fired for other misconduct, such as theft, about 100 annually, he testified.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the Committee, vowed to “hold hearings on the Park Service every 90 days until employees feel safe.”
Since Hester came forward, we have learned that investigation is warranted into financial corruption involving sums of money greater than originally believed to have been fraudulently expropriated by YNP employees, and that sexual harassment and abuse has occurred beyond the cases cited by Hester, at Yellowstone and Yosemite. YNP Superintendent Wenk informed us of other cases in Yellowstone, and Congress has revealed a widespread problem within the Park Service that also includes Yosemite. It has been reported to us, further, by a YNP source, that a YNP supervisor had more than once inflicted physical abuse on a male employee that required medical treatment. The consequence of one such alleged abuse incident resulted in the supervisor being forced into retirement. That retired YNP supervisor, who now reportedly resides locally, was also alleged to have chronically targeted a female subordinate with sexual harassment of an especially serious nature that is now before federal investigators.
Editors note: 1) YNP employees and others concerned about dysfunction and corruption at NPS can view the June and September House Oversight hearings online via C-Span, YouTube or the House Oversight Committee site. 2) Recent information communicated to this publication indicate that, rather than sincerely taking up whistleblower allegations at Yellowstone National Park, the highest levels of YNP management have begun attempts to discredit and retaliate, contrary to public statements before Congress and assurances by the YNP Superintendent.