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Research Questions

  1. How prevalent are harassment and discrimination at FEMA?
  2. Has FEMA made its workplaces safer for employees in terms of harassment and discrimination?
  3. What factors might have influenced changes in the prevalence of harassment and discrimination between 2019 and 2021?

In 2019, researchers from the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center (HSOAC) fielded a survey to estimate the annual prevalence of workplace harassment and discrimination at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and assess employee perceptions of leadership and workplace climate. The survey results revealed areas in need of improvement and helped guide FEMA leadership decisions about programming and policy responses. With the results in hand, FEMA published its "Culture Improvement Action Plan," laying out objectives, programs, and actions intended to create a safe workplace for all employees.

To understand whether this objective had been achieved, FEMA asked HSOAC researchers to repeat the workforce survey two years after the first survey had been administered. The survey was repeated in the spring of 2021, with results indicating a substantial reduction from 2019 of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, albeit still a high prevalence. This report presents the survey results and a discussion about how changes in the workplace during the response period might have influenced the findings. An annex to this report contains detailed tabular data of survey results and the complete survey instrument.

The survey was designed to provide an independent and objective assessment of the prevalence and characteristics of harassment and discrimination at FEMA, whether or not victims chose to elevate incidents to FEMA leadership, and employee perspectives on workplace climate.

Key Findings

  • About one in five FEMA employees experienced at least one gender-based/sexual or race/ethnicity–based civil rights violation in the preceding year.
  • More than 13 percent of FEMA employees experienced gender-based/sexual civil rights violations in the past year.
  • Women (17.2 percent) were more likely than men (9.4 percent) to be categorized as having experienced some form of gender-based/sexual civil rights violation.
  • About one in seven FEMA employees experienced a race/ethnicity–based civil rights violation in the past year.
  • Employees who identified as more than one race (24.3 percent) or Black (17.8 percent) were more likely than white employees (12.2 percent) to be categorized as having experienced a racial/ethnic civil rights violation.

The cause of this decline is uncertain, but the authors offer three plausible explanations, any combination of which might have contributed:

  • First, the survey time period coincided with national movements against sexual harassment (#MeToo) and police violence against Black people (Black Lives Matter).
  • Second, FEMA's increased training and prevention efforts might have paid off and led to the observed decline in civil rights violations.
  • Third, changes in the modes of communication, physical proximity to colleagues, and the type of work performed during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic might have together reduced offenders' opportunities to harass and discriminate against their colleagues.


  • Review the "Culture Improvement Action Plan," collect information about the implementation of the plan, identify successes and opportunities for improvement, and, if necessary, update the plan.
  • Continue to monitor civil rights violations.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Survey Design and Analytic Approach

  • Chapter Three

    Overall Prevalence of Gender-Based/Sexual and Racial/Ethnic Civil Rights Violations and Additional Analyses

  • Chapter Four

    Prevalence of Gender-Based/Sexual Civil Rights Violations in the Year Preceding the Survey

  • Chapter Five

    Characteristics of Gender-Based/Sexual Civil Rights Violations

  • Chapter Six

    Prevalence of Racial/Ethnic Civil Rights Violations.

  • Chapter Seven

    Characteristics of Racial/Ethnic Civil Rights Violations

  • Chapter Eight

    Reporting Decisions, Perceived Organizational Response to Reports, and Barriers to Reporting

  • Chapter Nine

    The FEMA Climate

  • Chapter Ten

    Conclusions and Recommendations

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Office of Equal Rights and conducted by Strategy, Policy and Operations Program within the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.