How much of a grace period should Mary receive as the new director of the National Park Service?
On one hand, she's only officially been director since either very late on September 29th or very early on September 30th. Yet many touted her for the position because of her status as a "career NPS employee," and that tag would seem to carry an implication that she's well-familiar with the agency's issues and would quickly grab the agency's reins.
If she has grabbed the reins, she's done it behind-the-scenes, coming into view only to deliver rather blase announcements. She's introduced acting staff, directed Park Service employees to be polite and accommodating, and called on Americans to celebrate the holiday season in the parks.
Mary largely has demurred from press interviews. Even when visiting Mount Rainier to inspect the aftermath of early November's rain storms, news accounts carried scant little comment from Mary.
Indeed, when she returned to Washington, rather than issuing a statement about the severity of the damage and the need to ask for federal highway funds to help put Rainier back together, not a peep was heard publicly.
So what's Mary been up to?
For one thing, she's been giving a lot of face time to special interest groups, partners, and corporate entities. She met with the Wyoming Business Alliance and Wyoming Heritage Foundation on her way to Mount Rainier, and evidently has been meeting with quite
a few other groups. Groups that possibly generate cause for concern
when you recall Fran's penchant for wanting, shall we say, greater corporate involvement in the national parks.
Over at the Wild Wilderness blog, Scott Silver takes a recent memo from Mary and points to troubling passages that he believes indicate that she will "successfully advance much the same agenda Mainella would have advanced had Mainella been competent."
Here's one passage:
"The President was clear in his directive that he expects us as an agency to work closely with our many partners to leverage government investment with philanthropic and partnership contributions and to establish clear, measurable performance goals that will ensure that all the investments made in the parks are contributing to the long-term protection of the priceless resources entrusted to our care."
Less troubling is this passage, in which Mary discusses the National Park Centennial Challenge:
"...there is a clear understanding that a strong government investment is required in order to stimulate philanthropic contribution—and that much of the federal commitment needs to be directed to mission critical needs of field areas throughout the county."
Among the things I was critical of Fran for was her seeming lack of advocating for the national park system. Some 70 days into her reign, outwardly it's hard, if not impossible, to gauge Mary's stance on a myriad of issues critical to the national park system.
Rather than forcing us to read tea leaves, it'd be nice if Mary would surface to tell us her views on:
* the pricey America the Beautiful pass
* her plan for getting Mount Rainer back in operation before spring thaw
* whether she really supports privatizing part of historic Fort Hancock in the Gateway National Recreation Area
* why she's so gung-ho about snowmobiles in Yellowstone when the park's own biologists are cool on the proposal to allow 720 'biles a day in the park, and
* how she plans to respond to substantial problems in the park system that were outlined by the Government Accountability Office last spring.
Hopefully, Mary has been working behind-the-scenes to address all these issues and soon will come out into the sunlight to outline her decisions, for what we need in government is more daylight shed on its internal decision-making, not less.