Equal Employment Opportunity:

NIH's Handling of Alleged Sexual Harassment and Sex Discrimination Matters

GGD-95-192: Published: Sep 29, 1995. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the extent and nature of sexual harassment and sex discrimination at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

GAO found that: (1) 32 percent of NIH employees surveyed reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment in the past year, but 96 percent of these employees opted not to file an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint or take other personnel action; (2) NIH employees filed 32 informal and 20 formal sexual harassment complaints between October 1990 and May 1994, however no determinations of sexual harassment were made in response to these complaints; (3) about 13 percent of NIH employees believed they had experienced sex discrimination over the last 2 years, but 90 percent of these employees chose not to file grievances or EEO complaints; (4) NIH employees filed 209 informal and 111 formal sex discrimination complaints between October 1990 and May 1994, however no determinations of sex discriminations were made in response to the formal complaints; and (5) although NIH has recently acted to improve its EEO climate, more could be done in the areas of timeliness, information, and training.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director, NIH, should take steps to decrease the time it takes to process and resolve sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints at NIH. In addition, because the Director is responsible for ensuring an appropriate EEO climate throughout NIH despite the decentralized management structure and practices of the agency, the Director should take further steps to provide guidance for and monitoring of NIH EEO program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NIH said it took steps to decrease the time it takes to process and resolve sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints. NIH said it had increased the number of staff processing complaints, that this has led to reduced caseloads for specialists, and that this, in turn, should result in more timely processing. Additionally, the Department delegated NIH the authority to accept and dismiss complaints, investigate complaints, and authorize settlement agreements containing provisions for back pay and attorneys' fees. The Department believes these delegations will speed resolutions by giving NIH more control over and accountability for the complaint investigation and resolution process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director, NIH, should take steps to decrease the time it takes to process and resolve sexual harassment and sex discrimination complaints at NIH. In addition, because the Director is responsible for ensuring an appropriate EEO climate throughout NIH despite the decentralized management structure and practices of the agency, the Director should take further steps to provide guidance for and monitoring of NIH EEO program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department concurred stating that an initiative was under way to provide minimum standards for agency policy statements, information, and training and that an NIH-wide policy statement on sexual harassment prevention was being reissued. Also, articles related to the prevention of sexual harassment were to be published periodically in agency-related publications.

    Recommendation: The Director, NIH, should consider periodically conducting an employee attitude survey, such as the one GAO developed, so that the existence of sexual harassment and sex discrimination trends and problems can be more easily identified and dealt with.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency informed GAO that, within 3 years, it will develop and distribute an employee attitude survey instrument as a means of identifying sexual harassment and sex discrimination trends and problems at NIH. NIH says it will use the baseline data over time to assess improvement and the effectiveness of programs to eradicate discrimination.

    Recommendation: The Director, NIH, should consider establishing minimum standards for sexual harassment and sex discrimination-related training offered to NIH employees as well as procedures for monitoring the implementation of the training to ensure that employees participate as intended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Public Health Service: National Institutes of Health

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department stated that an initiative was under way to provide minimum standards for agency policy statements, information, and training.

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