Democratic senators pushing to get information on the extent and cost of sexual harassment in offices across the country have been turned down by the US Labor Department on their request for the agency look into the issue because – the agency says – it would be too complex and costly.
“The Department is committed to preventing and elimination workplace sexual harassment and understand your concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace,” Acting Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner William Wiatrowski writes in a letter sent to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, provided first to CNN. “However, collecting this information would be complex and costly.”
“There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin,” the letter goes on to explain, pointing the senators to places for “alternative source of information” on sexual harassment that may help in collecting this information, like the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey.
Democrats Patty Murray and Gillibrand, who were among the group of senators who requested this information of the Labor Department, are now calling that response out – calling the justification by the agency for turning down their request “disappointing,” “wholly inadequate” and asking them to reconsider in a new letter.
“While your letter indicated the Department takes workplace sexual harassment ‘very seriously,’ your lack of commitment to collect this data undermines your assurances,” the senators write in a letter dated April 30 to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and Wiatrowski. “The notion that this work is complex by nature does not seem to be a sufficient justification to decline this request.”
The senators also shoot down the notion that the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey would be a sufficient source of information to address their request – noting that not all sexual harassment rises to the level of a criminal act that would be captured by their survey.
“Although we appreciate the Department’s suggestions for alternative sources of information, the Department (of Labor) is uniquely situated to collect the data we have requested.”
In January, Gillibrand and Murray along with 20 of their Senate colleagues made the original request of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, calling for the agency to collect data on the size, scope and impact of sexual harassment workplaces across the country.
“There has not been an exact accounting of the extend of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force,” said the letter written in January by 22 Democratic senators and Independent Bernie Sanders. “No matter the place or source, harassment has a tangible and negative economic effect on individuals” lifetime income and retirement and its pervasiveness damages the economy as a whole.”
The push for nationwide accounting of sexual harassment at workplaces across the country comes as the Senators are also facing heat and pressure about the extent of their own problems with sexual harassment in the workforce on Capitol Hill.