Image: AP

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to tackle sexual harassment in the workplace continue to be met with roadblocks. First, the Senate stalled on a bill that would overhaul the process for reporting sexual assault in congressional workplaces. Then, the Department of Labor rejected Gillibrand’s request to look into the extent and financial repercussions of sexual harassment in federal workplaces. Why did they reject this request? Because it’s too much fucking work, according to the agency.

From the Department of Labor’s denial letter to Gillibrand, as reported by CNN:

The Department takes workplace sexual harassment very seriously. The Department is committed to preventing and eliminating workplace sexual harassment and understands your concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace. However, collecting this information would be very 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 then directs Gillibrand to other resources, such as the National Crime Victimization Survey. Gillibrand and fellow senator-agitator, Patty Murray, called bullshit. In a firm April 30 letter to the DOL, they wrote:

While your letter indicated the Department takes workplace sexual harassment “very seriously,” your lack of commitment to collect this data undermines your assurances [...] Your justifications for not pursing such an effort were disappointing, and we ask that you reconsider.

Another federal agency dedicated to the federal workforce, the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), was in fact able to conduct this type of data collection and analysis starting in the 1980s. In an update to this study in 1994, the MSPB conservatively estimated that over the course of two years, sexual harassment in the federal workforce cost the government a total of $327.1 million as a result of job turnover, sick leave, and decreased productivity. Federal agencies were able to continue conducting surveys after this time. Surely the government’s capacity to collect data has only become more sophisticated over the past several decades.

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We have the capacity, what we don’t have is anything resembling an accountable government.