(Washington, DC) - Today, House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) sent letters to the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the CEO of Leidos, Inc. demanding answers as part of their investigation into sexual harassment and assault in the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP).
The Committee first began its scrutiny of sexual misconduct in the USAP in 2017, when it opened an investigation into allegations of assault and sexual harassment against a Boston University professor conducting research in Antarctica.
In December of 2022, the Committee held a hearing on Building a Safer Antarctic Research Environment, at which Members heard testimony from witnesses including the Chief Operating Officers of Leidos and NSF.
Following that hearing, the Committee raised concerns about the accuracy of information provided to Congress by Leidos regarding reports of sexual assault. After initially reporting zero incidents of assault, Leidos later responded that their answer was “incomplete,” and shared that between August of 2016 and December of 2022, Leidos received four allegations of sexual assault and 19 allegations of sexual harassment in Antarctica.
“This discrepancy raised obvious questions about the sufficiency of communications among Leidos, its subcontractors, and the National Science Foundation as well as the candor of Leidos’ communications with the Committee,” Lucas and Lofgren wrote.
Today’s letters delve further into the potential mishandling of incidents of harassment and assault in the U.S. Antarctic Program.
“In the months since receiving Leidos’ May response letter, Committee staff have had the opportunity to gather documentation and speak with many individuals whose accounts of their experiences are markedly different from the description of events provided by Leidos and NSF,” Lucas and Lofgren wrote. “These discrepancies include mischaracterizations of self-initiated statements, alarming and unprofessional responses from human resource personnel, and the failures to engage and inform the relevant parties during an ongoing investigation.”
They noted that these conversations raised serious concerns about Leidos’ and NSF’s commitment to conducting appropriate investigations and oversight of reports of sexual assault and harassment.
The Committee has heard harrowing first-hand reports from survivors of sexual assault in the USAP, and the accounts that informed today’s letters are only a fraction of the reports the Committee has received.
In the letters, Lucas and Lofgren noted allegations that the safety of victims of assault or harassment was not prioritized. “Some individuals were so fearful for their safety that they felt the need to carry a weapon,” they wrote. “Others have shared their disappointment with the lack of resources for separating aggressors from their victims; instead, management would recommend the victim self-isolate or leave the USAP as the only viable option for maintaining their safety. From the testimonies provided, it appears the lack of priority given to these safety concerns by USAP leadership has contributed to the distrust of management and further deterred reporting.”
Lucas and Lofgren also raised concerns about allegations of retaliation which deters individuals from reporting sexual assault or harassment.
“Accounts of termination or the rejection of contract renewals have been reported as commonplace retaliatory actions by subcontractors, and Leidos. All of these claims are extremely disconcerting to the Committee and run in vast contrast to many of the answers provided by Leidos in response to questions for the record from the December hearing,” the letter reads.
Lucas and Lofgren also raised concerns about the inadequacy of NSF’s response to safety concerns. “It is extremely disappointing that NSF repeatedly emphasizes infrastructural and alcohol-related changes to the Committee and the National Science Board while, in the Committee’s view, giving far less attention to the deeper, more complex cultural issues highlighted in the SAHPR report,” they wrote.
The Committee leaders requested that NSF, Leidos, and all applicable subcontractors provide and maintain documents related to these issues and any incidents going forward. The Committee also sent a detailed list of questions to probe the extent of NSF’s and Leidos’ response to reports of sexual harassment and assault.
“It is the intent of the Committee’s investigation to fully understand the extent of the issues within the USAP, and we are prepared to take the necessary actions to mitigate these problems,” Lucas and Lofgren wrote.
Lucas and Lofgren encourage witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward with any further information that will aid in the Committee’s investigation.
The letter to the National Science Foundation is available here.
The letter to Leidos is available here.Leidos’ May 12 response letter is available here.