Timing is everything in life.
With Fran heading out to retirement, some might view this as a well-timed and very swift kick out the door. Not at all. It's just that I only today became aware of this study that is very telling of the agency culture she fostered with her management style and, dare I say, questionable support of the national park system.
Bottom line? When it's all done and said, Park Service employees are not impressed with her leadership. That's the gist of a survey of 2,500 Park Service employees conducted by a Duke University post-graduate student.
Among the critiques pointed out in the survey, which was performed by Julie Elmore at the Duke University School of the Environment, were that there is "poor mission management among NPS leadership" and that there is not enough staff in the parks to educate the public and protect the resource.
The respondents also lamented a lack of career advancement, a lack of training, and a lack of feedback from supervisors. Sadly, just 54 percent felt their supervisors cared about their professional development. And in looking up to their superiors, just 28 percent felt Fran was committed to quality work in the park system.
In fact, in every measure of leadership, the percentages of confidence the respondents held in their superiors eroded as one went up the ladder. In other words, Fran generated the least amount of confidence in the respondents, followed by the Washington office in general, then the regional offices, then the local superintendent's office.
Indeed, many of the respondents felt the Park Service did not look ahead as much as it should, that the agency "does mostly crisis management."
At the same time, 97 percent believed in the Park Service mission and 95 percent thought the work they performed was important.
The survey, which was published in May, is quite damning of Fran.
Just 21 percent of the respondents thought Fran succeeded in her efforts to preserve and protect the park system's natural and cultural resources; just 11 percent thought she was successful in resolving internal conflicts; just 15 percent thought she was successful in resolving external conflicts; just 9 percent thought she was good at coaching and developing employees, and; just 15 percent thought she was capable of leading the Park Service in a positive direction.
Furthermore, 84 percent of the Park Service employees who responded to the survey, which was performed between August 13, 2005, and December 15, 2005, said the Park Service was not doing a good job "retaining well-qualified and and highly capable personnel."
On top of that, a quarter of the respondents were not sure they wanted to spend their entire career with the agency.
Among these "undecideds," a majority held a master's degree and most were likely to be involved in resource management. Distressingly, this group, among the most valuable set of employees in the park system, was more likely to believe that their work was not important and was more likely not to know what was expected of them.
Could these feelings be the result of the just-ended year-long debacle over the Park Service's Management Policies? After all, for a good deal of the past year there was an ongoing struggle to weaken the Park Service's legendary mandate to protect the resource above all else for the benefit of future generations. And early on Fran supported those drastic changes.
Why wouldn't resource managers feel unwanted or that their efforts weren't appreciated by the agency's top managers?
Corporate culture is the glue that holds an organization together. It is set by the executive team; in this case, the director's office. If this survey is valid -- and with only 12 percent of the agency's employees participating, some folks no doubt will question the validity -- it paints an incredibly distressing picture of how dysfunctional and depressed the Park Service has become.
To those who would question the survey's validity, there are those at the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees who would stand 100 percent behind it. Back in July when Fran tendered her resignation the coalition's Bill Wade told me that she might go down in history as the worst Park Service director. This survey's results would support that conjecture.
So now what?
Whoever succeeds Fran will have an awfully tough mission on his or her hands. Not only must they cope with insufficient funds to run the agency, but somehow they must rebuild their employees' confidence -- not in their mission, but in whether the Washington office can successfully lead that mission. The new director, and even Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthore, would be wise to read this survey to know where to begin.
But in light of this administration's handling of the park system to date, that's a challenge that I doubt can be answered.