​​The FDIC's dithering on shocking misconduct allegations is unacceptable

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A woman feared for her physical safety after a colleague continued to send her unwelcome sexualized texts, even after she reported him. 

Another woman recounted the shocking moment when her supervisor suggested she act as a surrogate for his child, an appalling abuse of power and position. 

In another instance, a supervisor mockingly referred to an employee with a disability as “Pirate McNasty.” 

And that’s only a small fraction of the disturbing details captured in the recent report on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), revealing a deeply troubling culture where harassment, discrimination, and misconduct are not only tolerated but protected.

The independent review by Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP unequivocally states that the FDIC has long failed to ensure a safe workplace for its employees. The culture is described as “misogynistic,” “patriarchal” and “insular,” with employees fearing retaliation for reporting misconduct. This is unacceptable in any workplace, let alone within a federal agency tasked with maintaining public confidence in our nation’s financial system.

As a former member of Congress who worked extensively on sexual harassment issues and legislation in the wake of the “Me Too” fallout, I am appalled by these discoveries and the lack of decisive action to address them. The furor surrounding this report highlights the urgent need for further thorough and transparent investigations, along with immediate reforms to restore trust and integrity within this critical institution.

The report not only exposes a toxic culture but also highlights significant management failures. 

For example, senior executives at the FDIC were aware of multiple complaints yet took little to no action to address them. This neglect extends beyond just harassment cases — numerous reports of discrimination and retaliatory behavior have been similarly ignored. The lack of accountability at the highest levels of the FDIC undermines employee trust and compromises the agency’s ability to function effectively. 

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed their justified outrage and demanded accountability, from Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who declared the FDIC’s policies as a “cataclysmic failure” to Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), who called the independent investigation “the most damning report I’ve ever seen.”  

Yet, the FDIC’s management has shown a disturbing pattern of moving wrongdoers around rather than holding them accountable. This “pay, promote, or move” approach has only perpetuated a toxic environment where employees from underrepresented groups and those who report misconduct are marginalized and silenced.

Despite the gravity of these findings, employees are still awaiting meaningful action and responses that reflect the urgency and commitment needed to address the agency’s systemic issues. This includes implementing the report’s recommendations, such as appointing a culture and structure transformation monitor, enhancing training programs and creating an independent hotline for reporting misconduct. Furthermore, leadership at the FDIC must be held accountable for their role in perpetuating this environment.

Chairman Martin Gruenberg, who has been a central figure in this crisis, announced he will resign once a successor is appointed. While his resignation is a necessary first step, it is not sufficient on its own. 

The process of appointing a successor must be expedited, and the new leadership must be committed to addressing the entrenched issues that have plagued the FDIC for years. The FDIC’s new leader must be someone who can credibly lead the agency through this period of necessary cultural transformation.

The FDIC plays a crucial role in our financial system, and its employees deserve a safe and respectful workplace. The widespread fury over this report should serve as a wake-up call. We must demand accountability and swift action to rectify the wrongs that have been exposed. 

Anything less would be a disservice to the dedicated public servants at the FDIC and a failure to uphold the values needed at this vital institution.  

Barbara Comstock represented Virginia’s 10th congressional district from 2015 to 2019.

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