Washington, DC – Representatives Jackie Speier (CA-14), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Gregory Meeks (NY-5), and Joaquin Castro (TX-20) led 35 of their colleagues in sending a letter today to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling on him to use executive authority to address rampant harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault within the State Department.

For years, civil service and foreign service officers have spoken out about misconduct, including sexual harassment and assault, and a lack of accountability. In April 2020, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) identified the State Department as an agency that could be doing more to keep employees safe and hold perpetrators accountable in a report titled, “Federal #MeToo: Examining Sexual Harassment in Government Workplaces.” In September 2020, the State Department Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report with similar findings highlighting the lack of guidance on the investigative and disciplinary processes for sexual harassment and assault reports, inconsistent coordination among offices, poor data collection, and lack of timeliness standards.

The Members wrote, “The SHAPE Act addresses many of the issues raised in the USCCR and OIG reports by presenting a comprehensive approach to preventing and addressing harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault. It was crafted in consultation with survivors, including current and former State Department personnel, who had endured gross misconduct that was swept under the rug. It has the support of various stakeholders, including the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, Truman National Security Project, Foreign Policy for America, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, and Women Ambassadors Serving America. Given the urgency of addressing these issues for our national security, we urge you to use your executive authority to advance several provisions, including:

  • Section 2 – A comprehensive policy for the Department on the prevention of and response to harassment, discrimination, sexual assault, and related retaliation involving employees, contractors, and officials;
  • Section 3 – A robust definition of harassment, clear guidance on the responsibilities of and coordination between offices, and timeliness standards for the investigation of harassment complaints;
  • Section 4 – Comprehensive sexual assault protocol and guidelines that conform to best practices in the field;
  • Section 6 – Employee climate surveys assessing the prevalence of harassment, discrimination, sexual assault, and related retaliation and comfort with the reporting and resolution mechanisms;
  • Section 8 – Robust training for supervisors, bystanders, managers, and senior leadership.”

The Members continued, “In addition to these reforms, we encourage you to undertake a comprehensive review of disciplinary offenses and penalties imposed by the Department since January 2018 for discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault, whether they were administered consistently, and were commensurate with the severity of the allegations. We also urge you to collect and analyze more recent data on sexual harassment and assault than the OIG’s analysis of 2014 – 2017 data to capture recent trend lines, and establish mechanisms to collect, analyze, and publish these data at regular intervals moving forward. Data collection should include not only aggregate numbers of complaints but also the average timeframe for resolution and the types of disciplinary action.” 

A pdf copy of the the letter is attached below.