March 27, 2018

Congressional Action on Sexual Harassment

Posted by Timia Crisp

Last week, AGU’s President Eric Davidson reflected on our ethics policy six months after its adoption. One component of the updated policy is the addition of harassment in the definition of scientific misconduct. AGU recognized that we could do more to address sexual harassment in the sciences, and we are not alone. Other scientific organizations and Congress are examining this issue.

Recently, AGU’s CEO and Executive Director, Christine McEntee, testified before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology to discuss the ethics policy and steps AGU is taking to combat sexual harassment.  From us and other witnesses at the hearing, the Subcommittee on Research and Technology is investigating not only what organizations are doing, but also what Congress can do to help address sexual harassment, not only in the sciences, but society broadly.

There are a few legislative proposals regarding sexual harassment, including:

  1. Federal Funding Accountability for Sexual Harassers Act – a bill introduced by Rep. Jackie Speiers (D-CA) that would require institutions to report if a grant recipient has been investigated for sexual discrimination and found guilty. The funding agencies would be required to keep this information on record and consider it when awarding. This bill has been introduced previously but has not been introduced in the 115thCongress.
  2. Stop Tax Subsidies for Sexual Abusers and Harassers Act of 2017 – a bill that would prohibit an entity from deducting settlements or payments related to sexual harassment or abuse, as well as any attorney fees related to that payment or settlement, from their taxes. Introduced by Rep. Barbara Comstock (D-VA), this bill has not received a vote.
  3. Senate Training on Prevention of Sexual Harassment or the STOP Sexual Harassment Resolution – the bipartisan resolution, introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), would require all Senate employees to complete sexual harassment training and require the Senate to administer an anonymous survey to Senators and Senate employees regarding the prevalence of sexual harassment. As a resolution, it would not become law if passed, but rather set rules for the governing body.
  4. Congressional Accountability Act Reform Measures – the bipartisan bill and resolution, led by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), aims to strengthen the dispute process and employee protections regarding sexual harassment claims and hold members of Congress personally responsible by increasing reporting requirements and requiring members to pay out-of-pocket for settlements. Both measures were passed in the House, however, the bill has not been considered in the Senate and therefore has not been enacted. As a resolution, the other measure only applies to the House.

In addition to these legislative proposals, the National Science Foundation recently published their proposed harassment policy, which is currently open for public comment. Consider submitting a comment highlighting positive implications of the proposed policy and/or ways in which the policy could be improved. The deadline to comment is 4 May 2018.

To learn more about AGU’s updated ethics policy or to find resources, please visit