Huffman, Bonamici, Young, González-Colón Introduce Bill to Improve NOAA Response to Sexual Harassment, Assault

April 29, 2020

Washington, D.C. – During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA), Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Don Young (R-AK), and Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response policy, and to secure more resources for survivors.

The bipartisan NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Improvements Act will strengthen NOAA's sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention and response program, coordinate claims, strengthen reporting, and support survivors. NOAA employs approximately 12,000 people, with many working in remote locations and aboard research and survey vessels to study, understand, and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coast.

“Sexual assault and harassment are pervasive crimes that aren’t limited by industry or circumstance,” said Congressman Jared Huffman. “We must do more to prioritize the safety and well-being of those who are doing the critical work supporting NOAA’s mission. This latest bill will further NOAA’s prevention and response policies and increase accountability. NOAA’s work supports communities across the country, and the people doing this important work deserve better.”

“As we respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot forget about the bravery of survivors who have come forward and exposed the pervasive nature of sexual harassment and assault in the workplace,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “A few years ago, a talented fisheries biologist reached out to me after she was forced to put her career on hold because of sexual harassment on a NOAA vessel. I worked with NOAA leadership to make tangible changes to the agency’s policies and procedures for reporting and investigating sexual harassment. The scientist was eventually able to return to her research safely, but there are still gaps in NOAA's efforts. This bipartisan bill will help prevent harassment, help more survivors seek justice, and hold more offenders accountable for their actions.”

"The work done by scientists at NOAA is critical to understanding and protecting our oceans, atmosphere, and fisheries. All of their employees should feel safe and protected at work," said Congressman Don Young. "Sadly, sexual harassment and assault continue to occur at alarming rates within NOAA. I am proud to join my House Oceans Caucus Co-Chair, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, on this critical legislation to better implement existing sexual assault prevention programs, and bolster NOAA's ability to prevent and respond to reports of harassment. I encourage my friends on both sides of the aisle to join us in this crucial initiative to protect employees and help survivors heal from these heinous acts." 

“Sexual assault and harassment cannot be tolerated, and that’s especially true for our federal workforce,”said Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón. “While NOAA has made significant strides to address this issue within the agency, it is clear that more needs to be done. I’m proud to join my colleagues as co-lead of the bipartisan NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Improvements Act. This bill will provide NOAA with additional tools to strengthen its sexual assault and harassment policies, including improvements to reporting mechanisms and requiring that victim advocates be full-time employees. It is my hope that, with these reforms, NOAA will have the necessary resources in place to fully assist and empower survivors in the agency.”

The NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Improvements Act will:

  • Expand coverage of NOAA’s sexual harassment prevention and response policy.
  • Direct NOAA to provide a clear mechanism for anonymous reports of sexual harassment.
  • Strengthen advocacy resources for survivors.
  • Provide for a secure reporting structure for survivors.
  • Expand reports to Congress on sexual harassment, sexual assault, and equal opportunity employment.
  • Improve the ability of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement to enforce a prohibition on assault, intimidation, and interference with fisheries observers.

More details about the legislation can be found here. A copy of the bill text can be found here.

Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Ed Case (D-HI), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), and TJ Cox (D-CA) are original cosponsors of the bill.