Commerce Committee Advances Cantwell Legislation Strengthening NOAA’s Sexual Assault and Harassment Policies

Ranking Member Cantwell has been working to combat sexual assault and harassment at NOAA since 2015

November 13, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C—Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, praised the passage of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment bill (NOAA SASH) to fight sexual assault and sexual harassment within NOAA.

“Sexual assault and harassment is a global epidemic and unfortunately NOAA has been no exception,” Senator Cantwell said. “No one should feel unsafe or unprotected while at work, which is why the Senate should swiftly pass this plan to foster a safe and supportive workplace environment at NOAA.”

In 2018, NOAA received 52 allegations of sexual harassment involving NOAA employees, members of the NOAA Corps, and individuals who worked for or conducted business on behalf of NOAA. The bill would allow every allegation to be fully investigated while protecting the anonymity of the survivor, require NOAA to notify Congress if an investigation is not undertaken within 48 hours of a report, and require the Secretary of Commerce to refer any evidence of a crime to law enforcement. 

According to NOAA’s 2019 SASH report, “It was determined that NOAA has a number of environmental risk factors that suggest that there may be fertile ground for harassment and/or assault to occur.”

The risk factors include having a homogenous workforce; having workplaces with significant power disparities between different groups of workers; and having isolated, remote, and decentralized workplaces.

At today’s hearing, Senator Cantwell said, “This bill closes loopholes in NOAA’s sexual harassment and assault policy that limited NOAA’s ability to have an investigation. This very much mirrors what we did in the Coast Guard because obviously these agencies are dealing with people that are in very remote locations, and consequently we need to make sure that there are processes here that can take place.”

In 2015, Senator Cantwell and Senator Sullivan (R-AK) introduced the NOAA Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Act, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee. The initial legislation required NOAA to develop and adopt policies to protect its employees from sexual harassment and assault, which NOAA has since implemented, as seen in its 2019 report. The bill reported today, also championed by Ranking Member Cantwell, seeks to ensure that those policies are being upheld.

You can read the full 2019 SASH report from NOAA here.