A GAO report says that while sexual harassment has been proven to create health, productivity, career, and reporting and legal costs, data is lacking and inconsistent on its extent in the federal workforce and in the national workforce in general.
“We found few reliable nationwide estimates across workplaces,” GAO said, pointing to issues with such surveys such as differences in how sexual harassment is defined and inconsistency in how far respondents are asked to look back in assessing whether they have experienced or even seen it.
For example, it said a 2016 survey by the MSPB found that 21 percent of women and 9 percent of men reported experiencing one of 12 behaviors over the prior two years, while two national studies looked back only one year. One of those found that only 4 percent of women and 2 percent of men reported experiencing what they perceived to be sexual harassment while in the others the figures were 52 and 43 percent.
It also said that while the EEOC collects data on sexual harassment claims, it can’t fully analyze the problem because that agency doesn’t separate data on claims that employers retaliated against workers who reported sexual harassment from claims that employers retaliated for other reasons.
In an online posting, GAO meanwhile referenced a report and testimony on the VA in which it found that while the department has policies to prevent and address harassment of employees, “some are inconsistent and incomplete. For example, the person who oversees personnel functions, such as hiring and promotions, is the same person who oversees the complaint process. This could create a conflict of interest.”
“Additionally, VA does not collect information on all complaints centrally, which makes it harder to direct resources for preventing and addressing sexual harassment where they are needed most. This also means VA does not have a sense of how prevalent sexual harassment is within the department,” it said.
It added that in a look at the five federal agencies that provide most of the federal STEM research grants it found that “while the number of complaints agencies received were low, the guidance for how employees could report sexual harassment incidents was limited.”
It also found that while those agencies have policies to ensure funding is not awarded to those who have a history of sexual harassment, they face challenges in enforcing those policies including a lack of information on sexual harassment cases.