Will Greatness Mark the National Park Service's Next Century?

Toward the Centennial. National Parks Traveler illustration, Mather photo from NPS Historic Photograph Collection

Stephen T. Mather, the first National Park Service director, and Mary Bomar, the current director. Mather photo from NPS Historic Photograph Collection.

Is the National Park Service's Centennial Initiative as "audacious" as Director Mary Bomar claims it to be? Will it truly prepare the agency for its second century, or is it lacking in its current form some critical aspects that are necessary for the Park Service to attain greatness as protector of arguably the world's best park system?

Dwight Pitcaithley served as chief historian for the Park Service from 1995 to 2005. In his insightful and thought-generating essay, On the Brink of Greatness: National Parks and the Next Century, written for the George Wright Society, Mr. Pitcaithley leaves us wondering whether there are areas that so far have glaringly been overlooked in the Park Service's centennial planning.

Indeed, he writes that the agency is drastically underfunded; is failing its employees by not providing opportunities for continuing education; is hamstrung by politics, and; is not adequately supporting its cultural and natural resource programs. Continuing to fail to adequately address those areas would be a critical mistake, one that would fail the national park system and, in tandem, our children and their children and their children's children.

The centennial will either begin a renaissance for this most American of American institutions or it will pass, as so many centennials pass, with much fanfare and celebration signifying nothing more than the banal mediocrity which unfortunately we have come to accept from important national anniversaries.

As has been pointed out on these pages before, the Centennial Initiative is a bold concept, but one that seemingly is missing some key elements. In introducing the initiative earlier this year, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and NPS Director Bomar spoke boldly of their vision for the Park Service's future:

* Stewardship and science will guide decisions, Mr. Kempthorne said in his cover letter to the president. An inventory of all wildlife in parks will be completed, a vital baseline to monitor change and adjust management. Strategic acquisitions will protect landscapes.
* Much has been accomplished and more remains to be done to fulfill a common American dream -- to leave things better for those who follow us, added Ms. Bomar in her own letter.
* This is not only a report to the president, but a pledge to the American people, who are the shareholders in the greatest system of parks and special places in the world ... a pledge that the men and women of the National Park Service will continue in preserving these wonderful places for the generations yet to come, Ms. Bomar added a bit later.

The two also said projects deemed worthy of helping the agency move strongly into its second century would revolve around stewardship, environmental leadership, recreational experience, education and professional excellence.

And yet, while the first 201 projects declared "eligible" for centennial funding touch on those five areas, what seems to be missing is a solid, underlying cohesion to them. Indeed, those projects were selected largely, if not entirely, on the merits of already having gained funding of some measure from private groups, not entirely because they embraced one of those five points or truly would strengthen the Park Service or park system.

In his essay, Mr. Pitcaithley calls for clearer, and more determined, foresight as the Park Service moves towards its centennial.

As this country begins to think about the centennial of the National Park Service, it is appropriate that we have a serious conversation about parks and their value to our society, and the role we want parks and the National Park Service to play in the future. What is our obligation, as the trustees of these magnificent places, to our children and their children? The upcoming centennial provides an opportunity to think creatively about the kind of National Park Service we want for the next century and envision systemic changes for its betterment and ours.

The 100th birthday of the National Park Service should be cause for a national celebration. It should prompt us to imagine a future for the agency and the magnificent collection of parks and programs it manages based not on the vision of a hundred years ago, but on the reality of today.

Mr. Pitcaithley's essay in its entirety (© 2007 The George Wright Society. Used by permission) can be found below. But here are some snippets:

* "As we envision a future for the National Park Service, we must logically consider the problems that currently plague it -- primarily those of inadequate budgets and increased politicization. While Congress is enamored with the idea of new parks, it has never felt obligated to support those parks with adequate and consistent funding."

* According to studies by the National Parks Conservation Association, the average budget shortfall among nearly 100 park units is 32 percent. Yellowstone's shortfall is 35 percent, Gettysburg's 35 percent, Everglades 32 percent, Valley Forge's 36 percent, Acadia's 53 percent, Fort Sumpter's 24 percent.

* The rapid turnover among Park Service directors in recent years "means that the essential relationships between the NPS and Congress and interested support organizations, not to mention funding priorities, change with the administrations and that the focus of the agency shifts with political winds. These changes at the very top of the agency create a degree of instability in an organization that can only be successful in a future characterized by certainty and consistency."

To that end, Mr. Pitcaithley suggests the agency's director no longer be a political appointee but rather an individual who serves a 15-year term, "on the model of the Government Accountability Office. This model has served GAO, and the American people, well by preventing politics from influencing that agency's decision-making process. Following the GAO's lead in this regard would also break the detrimental cycle of the NPS director tendering his or her resignation on January 20th upon the inauguration of a new administration."

* The Park Service must recommit to science in the parks.

* "A renewed vision for the future should also include authorization and funding ... for the National Park Service to send its employees -- in all disciplines -- back to institutions of higher learning to seek advanced degrees so the agency can manage its resources and programs with the very best of current science and scholarship."

* Annual funding for the agency, if it is to escape its hefty $8 billion maintenance backlog and move toward greatness, should be in the $5 billion-$6 billion range. "... funding the basic requirements of the National Park Service constitutes such a small fraction of the operations of the federal government that if the current budget were doubled to $5 billion, that figure would amount to less than 0.002 percent of the president's proposed 2008 budget! Proper funding of the National Park Service is not about money; it is about priorities. National parks are important to the ecological and civic health of this nation and should be funded with public monies."

* Do away with entrance fees to the parks. "This user fee is inherently inequitable. In a democracy such as ours, the educational and recreational benefits of the national park system should not be available only to those who can afford them. The riches of the national parks should be available to all without reference to economic status."

Mr. Pitcaithley's is a valuable essay, one whose message arrives in plenty of time for this administration and the next and the next to weigh, and act, if they truly want a great National Park Service and park system.

Pitcaithley Centennial Essay.pdf125.78 KB


Thanks for bring this article to our attention.

After reading it, I find that Pitcaithley makes no mention of cutting the bureaucratic waste in the NPS. There is only the familiar plea to throw more money at the problem.

The turnover rate in recent years has increased Biologists and geologists, archeologists and historians and others, whose collective experience and knowledge of park resources built over decades is critical to the "unimpaired" nature of parks, were slated to be replaced by private-sector contractors.

I'm glad Pitcaithley put unimpaired in quotes here. The federal government has done a lousy job keeping parks unimpaired, and the argument that we need government workers to continue the century-long job of overdeveloping our parks is laughable.

A budget of $5–6 billion does not seem unreasonable given the requirements and rising costs of maintaining 20,000 buildings, almost 1,000 campgrounds, 1,600 wastewater systems, 1,300 water systems...

So in one breath, Pitcaithley states we need government workers to continue keeping parks unimpaired, then in the next breath he lists all the "improvements" (impairments) to our national parks. Instead of considering that maybe the park service has attempted to do too much, Patcaithley asks for yet more handouts to placate the beast's ravenous appetite for tax dollars.

"No house or hotel or road of any sort should ever be built near this sea of silence."

Had only the NPS listened to Miller, Muir, and other conservationists of the time, we wouldn't need billions of dollars to maintain the impairment of our national treasures.

Greatness and government don't go together in the same sentence. Any "greatness" that people feel about the national parks is derived from the places themselves. There are few things truly great about a bureaucracy, except maybe its ability to persist in the face of its many obvious failures. The power to tax is a boon to perpetuated failure all over the globe.

Greatness is generally derived from the self-interested goals and ambitions that people produce voluntarily. Involuntary taxation is no way to go about producing greatness of any kind. When one thinks of the Department of the Interior does the word greatness immediately pop into your head? How about the Pentagon? Congress? The White House? The Postal Service? Public schools? The DMV?

When one thinks of greatness we tend to think of timeless works of art, inspiring architecture, literature, inventions, high mountains peaks and selfless sacrifice in the face of adversity. These are NOT the qualities of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, even one that has offices in very pretty places.

lol... if you two market experts (frank, beams) are suggesting that smith's "invisible hand" is going to take better care of the parks than a government agency, i'd ask that you google "market externalities." the nps may not be the best, but they're better than the rest. misused funds are inevitable, whether an agency or a corporation or a small business. only the nps, successful or not, has the best intentions in managing our parks.

"Best intentions". Ha!

Consider a recent New York Times editorial. After noting Americans' overwhelming support for national parks, the Times opines: "Yet in the past two months we have seen two proposed revisions (of management policy). The first, written by Paul Hoffman, a deputy assistant secretary in the Interior Department, was a genuinely scandalous rewriting that would have destroyed the national park system."

The second draft was only somewhat better. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, "the proposed policies re-define the over-arching duty of the park service, eliminating references to longstanding legal mandates that clearly emphasize preservation of resources.... The replacement statement sets a dangerous precedent that could put enjoyment of resources, including motorized abuse, ahead of conservation." They warn it would foster increased air and noise pollution due to more jet skis and snowmobiles, as well as expanded livestock grazing: both "high-impact" uses. Source: http://www.free-eco.org/articleDisplay_print.php?id=479

Even if I believed that NPS managers really had the "best intentions" (for which there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary), political pressures will continue to jeopardize their mission until the parks are depoliticized.

Beamis is right; government's golden age has passed. We're left with a calcified system where parasites fight it out for their slice of the pie. Today's government truly is incapable of anything great.

By the way, market externalities include monopolies, so why are you so adverse to competition in managing public lands?

And for your homework, try Googling "government monopoly". Let me help you. A government monopoly is a coercive monopoly. "Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way (whether through action or inaction) by use of threats, intimidation or some other form of pressure or force." According to economist Murray Rothbard, "a coercive monopolist will tend to perform his service badly and inefficiently."

Let me spell it out: NPS = a coercive monopoly (i.e. poor service, high prices--entrance fees, and extremely inefficient).

Frank, could you explain to me what you mean? The way I'm reading you, you are guilty of the fallacy of denying the antecedent.

1. NPS managers have the best intentions.
2. Political pressures will continue to jeopardize their mission until the parks are depoliticized.

If (1. or ~1.), then 2.
(1. or ~1.)
Therefore, 2. (by modus ponens) - though, what this means is unclear (that is, what do the terms mean, how do they relate to each other; how is it that 2. came to be stated?)

3. Government's golden age has passed.
4. Government is incapable of anything great.
5. Market externalities include monopolies.
6. Government monopolies are coercive monopolies.
7. Coercion is the practice of compelling a person to behave in an involuntary way...
8. A coercive monopolist will tend to perform his service badly and inefficiently.
9. If the NPS (government) is a coercive monopoly, it will not be efficient.
10. The NPS (government) is a coercive monopoly.
10a. Therefore, the government is not efficient. (modus ponens 9., 10.)

But, in the context of this you seem also to be saying this unstated premise (11.),

11. If the government is efficient, it would be managing public lands well.
12. The government is not efficient (10a.)
13. Therefore, it does not manage public lands well. (fallacy of denying the antecedent).

Furthermore, you also seem to be saying something like:

14. Competition is more efficient than government, which is coercively monopolistic. (Competition is a better way to manage public lands - hence, "so why are you so adverse to competition in managing public lands")
15. That which is more efficient manages better. (But, that begs the question and also casts doubt on the premises connected by 11.).

Or, you are saying, government monopoly and market competition are the only ways to manage public lands (which seems unfair except I haven't ever seen you consider other possible options)?

As I think you know, Frank, I don't entirely disagree with you, especially your critique of government and government monopolies. What I think you have yet to show is how that leads us to your conclusion that parks should be managed by competing market forces. The connection between "efficiency" and "better" is unproven at best, derived by fallacy at worst. The reduction to these choices has not been established.

So, I for one would like greater clarity from you. I think some would deny that efficiency is the only value at stake in management. Others would question the notion that "management" should be the way we describe the human relationship with parks. And, still others would simply deny the argument that market forces are actually efficient enough to deal with competing economic wants. I think people like me can accept many of your premises without accepting the conclusions you seem to be drawing. Help us fill in the blanks. Perhaps, you've edited yourself too much!


Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Here's what I said back on August 5th in the "Setting Precedents in the Parks" thread.

Having the NPS pendulum sway back and forth from left to right, from administration to administration, is more of a problem than ANY of the superlatives I've seen mentioned here. No, that doesn't mean privatize it. It means create some buffers to protect the parks from the direct influence of a potential idiot in the oval office, whether left or right. In all their haste to make the president du jour happy, in the long run, NPS can easily wind up going nowhere and having spent a lot of money in the process. Perhaps consider installing NPS directors in the same way that Federal Reserve or CIA directors are... subject to approval by congress, and largely independent of the whims of politicians.

Glad the George Wright Society agrees with me! If I remember correctly from viewing the society's website about a month ago, there will be a series of reports/essays on the subject at hand, so I encourage everyone to bookmark the site and keep an eye on any updates.

Go on head which your bad self Frank, quoting Rothbard! I wonder if Mary Bomar has ever heard of him or the Austrian school of free market economics.

Why is the government constantly being judged by its intentions rather than its actions? Why does it seem that so many people who frequent this website are so dead set against the free market? I know that they all enjoy the fruits of this system but steadfastly claim that national parks are an antidote to the toxic ills that it creates and the parks could NEVER be run along these lines.

Whether these people want to admit it or not this thing we call wilderness is a commodity. It is something that is currently owned, managed and marketed by government (there are some privately held wild lands) and not very efficiently or wisely. Why do people so steadfastly believe that the demand for wilderness preservation could not be met by self-interested action through the free market to protect land for those wishing to experience nature in the raw?

I for one believe that it could be done and I daresay much better than the current crop of corrupt agencies that get their funds through theft (the IRS) and through legislated monopoly control of vast tracts of lands, especially in the West, that are plunder acquired through violated treaties, wars of aggression (Mexican War) and corporatist shenanigans (of which Grand Teton & Shenandoah are two good examples).

By the way where are the most polluted places in the country? How about government facilities like Hanford, WA; the Savannah River Plant SC (both filled with square miles of nuclear waste above and below ground), Rocky Flats, CO; Dugway Proving Grounds, UT (nerve gas depot); Area 51 (a major PCB and hazardous waste incinerator placed way out in the Mojave some distance from the prying eyes of the public); Los Alamos, NM; Livermore Labs, CA the list could go on and on. These places are also exempt from the environmental laws that everyone else has to abide by.

Again let's at least judge on actions and leave good intentions for get well cards.

I don't want to get into a long argument about the effectiveness of government bureaus. I will leave that to people like Beamis and Frank whose opinions about the subject are well known to NPT readers.

I am a former NPS employee. Most of the people with whom I worked always felt that they owed their loyalty to the National Park System, not to the National Park Service. At the end of my career, I wanted to be measured by what I had done for parks and not for my skill in budget execution or personnel management.

As I read Dwight's paper, I see him calling for the agency to be as good as the parks it manages. Instead of a budget exercise, let's make the next 9 years in the run up to the Centennial a time when we try to make the NPS into what Horace Albright had in mind when he said, "Don't let the Park Service become just another government bureau." Let's look at the question of governance. Should the NPS remain in Interior? Let's think about whether the Director should have a term in office other than the 4 to 6 year cycle that is so common today. Let's think about how to assure that information generated by scientific research forms the basis for planning and decision-making. Let's review how to offer the public a meaningful role in the decision-making process. Let's see if another budget cycle is appopriate for an agency that needs to do long term planning to assure resources protection and preservation. Let's rethink how parks do their three basic jobs: provide quality visitor services, preserve and protect resources, and maintain productive relationships with park interest groups. Let's examine the fee structure. Let's determine how to measure success in parks. It certainly isn't the number of visitors who come although this is getting a lot of attention now.

Each generation of Americans, speaking through its representatives in the Congress, has added areas to the National Park System that they believed merited protection in perpetuity. We owe these areas the highest standard of care possible, not only as a matter of generational respect, but also because our children and their children deserve the opportunity to visit these areas. The Centennial offers the NPS the chance to re-energize and reinvigorate itself. It will be still further on its way to becoming "just another government bureau" if it fails to respond to the kinds of issues that Dwight lays out in his paper.

Rick Smith

One extremely important step, that never gets mentioned, would be to take the NPS out of the civil service, job-for-life career track and make things more like the private sector or even the military when it comes to hiring and firing employees.

In my ten-year career in the agency it was clear that employees were in the driver's seat when it came to personnel decision making. For example a bad employee cannot just be simply fired or even moved into another position with any ease. They have to apply for another position somewhere else and then their supervisor has to lie during reference checks to get the bad apple removed and on their way to another park where they can bollix up the works there. When I was a supervisor I was warned by my boss to always be wary of a good reference check because it could often mean that the person on the other end of the line was lying through their teeth to unload a loser. This was true more often than not.

If somebody is bad then they should get fired! Often I would hear, "Well cheer up, this guy's slated to retire in another four years. Then we'll be able to hire someone good." That always cheered me up.

In the two parks that I still keep in close contact with they have several positions that they will not renew once the current occupants retire form them. This includes a Chief Ranger, Chief Naturalist and Safety Officer (a position created for an incompetent boob that they couldn't fire but was wrecking his division's morale. He was also given the glorious title of GPRA Compliance Liaison Officer. Pretty good stuff, huh?).

Why not pull the plug NOW instead of waiting years and years and spend millions of dollars for what is known to be non-productive and wasteful employee compensation? Why does the agency have to wait for someone to decide for themselves to move on, and only when it is convenient and propitious for their personal career ambitions, and always at the expense of the park in which they are employed.

The horror stories are legion. In fact whenever I get together with my old compatriots in the green and gray the discussion usually gets around to "you'll never guess who still has job" or "yeah I felt bad about telling the gal who called me on that reference check that so and so was a good worker but it was the only way I could finally get this person out of my division." This is surely no way to run a professional organization.

If personnel practices are not dramatically changed all the bloviating in the world about re-energizing and reinvigorating a career focused bureaucracy will truly be for naught.

Beamis, I hear the same things from friends in government. I have a close friend who hates his job working in one division of government. He's too chicken to quit and has wanted for years to be fired, and so he does almost anything he can to get shown the door. However, no one ever fires him. Some co-workers here where I work talked about people who would not simply be asleep on the job, but would be knitting, watching television, baking cookies, or anything at all, knowing they would never be fired.

I think this is fantastic, personally. More power to any worker who can manage to do so little to get so much. And, if the bloat is having an adverse affect on the bureaucracy, terrific. Of course, I'm half joking, because I know the other side of this is that people actually need to organize so that everything doesn't decay. If government is decaying under it's own weight, it will only be absolute disaster if at the same time people aren't thinking of some of the consequences of the vacuum. I'm not big on "alternative visions", but I am big on doing our best to take care of what moves us the most. Government bloat is an opportunity for action; it may be subversive, but sometimes subversive is making sure that people have good information when they are on their travels, or taking care of others' wounds.

I'm not interested in reinvigorating the National Park Service; its malaise is exactly what it deserves. However, it would be tragic indeed if we ourselves didn't take the initiative to wonder what these places we love might need or desire from us.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Jim there are many of us out here that are ready and willing to roll up our sleeves and do what is necessary. I agree that the collapse is well deserved and at this point nigh impossible to reverse.

New paradigms await. It's actually exciting to ponder.

Beamis, nothing personal but you constantly slay and slam the NPS. However, is there anything good or positive that can be said from your experiences (with NPS) which can or might embolden the NPS, instead of all the negative effects of the department. As I understand from your past blogs, you were once a career officer in the NPS, there must of been some golden moments in your career. I certainly don't salute at every govermental agency with high kudo's...especially under this president. I know where your coming from in regards to incompetent personnel and gold plated managers with fancy name titles. I had my share of experiences with governmental dinosaurs and parasites. The NPS, is a complex organization with huge wheels to move it's forces...but it moves. It's not perfect and has many imperfections that you have strongly described (and often) with much distain...and bitterness. I don't think you wasted your time and career with the parks, but your harsh reactions and strong anti NPS views, certainly does not shed a positive light for the younger generation to seek such a career with NPS. Kick in some positive ideas to make it better.

Beamis has addressed this question. You can read his response here.

As a former national park ranger, I also considered Beamis disgruntled. Then I started seriously considering his arguments, thought about my own experience with the NPS, and realized he made many valid points.

As for criticism of the NPS which "does not shed a positive light for the younger generation to seek such a career with the NPS", maybe that's for the best. I put in ten seasons with the NPS hoping beyond hope for that illusive permanent job. I saw people get status who worked six seasons with the NPS and didn't know what the Organic Act was and couldn't explain its significance. One supervisor told me point blank that I hadn't gotten a permanent job because I was "too competent". Mediocre and substandard managers hire mediocre and substandard employees because they don't want to hire someone who will make them look bad.And as previously discussed, it's nearly impossible to fire permanent employees in the NPS. The incompetent or mediocre people who perpetuate the status quo advance up the GS scale while critical and innovative thinkers are marginalized. So that's the system with which the "younger generation" must contend.

The system is broken beyond repair. "Positive ideas" can't fix it. Money can't fix it. It's time for something new.

I would not encourage anyone to pursue a career with the NPS. That is not bitterness or sour grapes, it is just common sense advice. Someone with career ambitions in this field would do much better to start their own business or work for a smaller government entity. There are many great state park systems where you can get a lot done using your own pluck and initiative. Some of these include Florida, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Virginia among many others.

I started my own naturalist guide business and have had great success and much personal fulfillment. Several other of my former NPS colleagues have done likewise and have never looked back. We have turned a lot of people on to the wonders of the natural world in our own unique way and without having to wear a WW1 era military style uniform. The flat hat always gave me a terrible case of hat head.

The agency is in terminal decline as is the entire deficit funded federal leviathan that is hunkered down in its splendidly oblivious isolation along the banks of the Potomac. It is slouching toward the inevitable moral and financial bankruptcy that is inherent in all coercive systems of human organization since the beginning of history. I am not a pessimist. I can optimistically see the day when the slate is wiped clean of the current system and a new day will dawn where free and voluntary stewardship of land will be the way that preservation and enjoyment of natural landscapes will be realized.

A friend of mine who is a career mid-level supervisor said to me recently that he just wished that the agency actually cared primarily about natural history and immersed themselves in it the way he does rather than its current focus on podcasting, faddish initiatives, career climbing and long endless meetings where people are jockeying for power and coveted positions rather than actually knowing something about the parks they are charged with administering. Why would I encourage anyone to join up for that experience when there is a whole wide world of other more fulfilling options available with more popping up everyday? That is not cynicism it is heartfelt optimism.

The parks are the thing not the agency. The agency is terminal and that's not a bad thing. Yosemite is granite. It'll survive just fine.

Beamis, your comments are well taken, but in truth really quite sad and demoralizing to your younger peers in the NPS. Privatization is NOT the answer to NPS demise, but with stout LEADERSHIP we can overcome this negative flow of internal conflict that rids good people like you. Perhaps if more good people like you stayed in, just maybe you (and others that have left under similar circumstances) could have made a difference. Just a simplistic thought!

Never unwilling to put in my two cents worth, if you're seeking "constructive criticism", new directives, or whatever label appeals to you, I'd like some information. Especially from Frank and Beamis. I could sense by the underlying tone of many of the commentaries that I've read over the months that you both were at one point employed by the NPS in some manner. Without your whole life's story, and limiting your comments to whatever you're comfortable with in this public forum, could you guys give me a bit of insight as to your exact capacities when you were on their payroll? What level of interaction did you have with the public, management, researchers, director-level goofballs? I don't want this to sound like a job interview, but if you, in particular Beamis, are soliciting better dialog on the issues, I would be more helpful in assisting with the reform movement by gauging the depth of your expertise.

I haven't been around here long enough to know quite the level of experience that various people have compiled. But in general, what I'm suggesting is not an open forum dialog, but real and substantive action. If you, and any other readers are seriously concerned about the current state of affairs and the prospects for the future, there are better ways to attack the issues. I think you both know that in my world, nobody cares a bit about what you say. Actions make the differrence, and are more difficult to accomplish than just wasting time talking. I reference any campaign speech, political platform, and the old "when I get elected I promise you that I'll........" rhetoric. As the Native American history so accurately relates regarding our politicians, "Of all the promises that they made to our people, they kept only one. They promised to take our land and they took it." The problem is that the taking never stopped, and is just as relevant today as it was back in the 19th century. I prefer for myself, my family and all future generations not to suffer the same fate as the native peoples. Their only mistake was trusting the white man's words. They negotiated in good faith and lost everything. Such is the future of all who trust the government's words: broken promises, outright lies and deceit, and the raping of a nation. Well, that last line may be a bit over the top. But negotiations are fruitless when both parties are not bargaining in good faith. Therefore, action, not dialog, is the only way to salvage this broken system, as Frank stated. Now for some brainstorming about the legal methods of reclaiming public lands, without going too-Montana.

I ended my career as a mid-level supervisor. I was a naturalist by trade but ended up in the ranger division, so I did it all. I had interaction with all levels of management including some detailed projects with the folks at the NPS Center in Harpers Ferry as well as dealings with bigwigs in WASO. My career was marked by merit awards and promotion, I was quite the team player, just ask the Haunted Hiker, she knows me well (if you are in need of a reference check). Let me put it this way, I was the one that the superintendent chose to take visiting bigwigs on a tour of my park.

Does that answer your question Lone Hiker?

What actions do you propose?

I'm not into reference checks. I trust your personal references wouldn't say anything to reflect negatively on your esteemed character. And business references generally pass along high marks, especially on someone there's looking to cut bait with, so what good is that?

The overview of the gig seems respectable enough. It's a pity what upper-management can do, intentionally or not, to create an environment such that decent people are exposed to a level of frustration, irritation, stress, incompetence, and nonchalance that leaving is the best option. It's a regular happening in education, business, and, believe it or not, government of all places! That's why we're stuck with this intolerable level of mediocrity at the federal level; the few honest and decent folk who managed to achieve victory in general elections were run out of town for refusing to be bent over the table and compromise their ideals (and campaign promises) in favor of some idiot committee chairman who's bank accounts are lined by the lobbyists and special interest groups. It's a guarantee that any "lifer" in our Congress plays into this dirty game. And the longer they've been there, the dirtier they become. These are not just my opinions mind you, but the resulting theory of an ex-Senator who resigned after one session of direct interaction within this cesspool. My long-standing suspicions were confirmed by this person, and who better to testify for the prosecution than an eye-witness? There I go, digressing again........sorry.

There are many methods of overhauling a system. Some "tweaks" are simple and generally lend to short-term improvement but usually don't have the staying power. I'm not quite so sure that even a thorough overhaul, from policy-maker status down to kitchen attendant (sorry about that you in the service trade) would be enough to redirect a sinking Titanic away from the iceberg. Those type of sweeping, system-wide modification generally take quite literally, years, to have any real impact. I question the time-frame in which we're working. Personally, I don't believe there are years enough, and generally I'm rather patient. But time is running out, especially if you follow the environmental change hypothesis. My grand plan(s) will take a bit more space to lay out, but suffice to say that for the radical, department wide gutting that really needs to be done, the best way is a multi-faceted approach taking all the tools that have been working against us and redirecting them. This is, after all, a business, and as a business it needs to be managed like any other world-class venture. Everything must be reviewed and revamped, from management to budget controls, finding new funding sources to marketing the product, legal and accounting issues, research projects, environmental issues, hiring, training and retention of quality employees, planning and possible expansion issues, working in conjunction with, as opposed to, other national land management teams and divisions. The list is quite complex, but so is the problem. But in a nutshell, let's say it's centered around putting the public lands back into the public's hands......not a bad sound bite, eh? I'll keep you posted.

I'm certain you answered my question more succinctly than I did yours.

"And business references generally pass along high marks, especially on someone there's looking to cut bait with, so what good is that?"


I don't think your lack of succinctness is a blot on your answer. It obviously required more than a few cursory sentences. Keep up the thinking. I will too.

By the way, what's this garbage?

misused funds are inevitable, whether an agency or a corporation or a small business. only the nps, successful or not, has the best intentions in managing our parks.

Mismanagement is inevitable? Poor accounting practices are inevitable? Lack of accountability in inevitable?

Boy am I glad I never had you in MY employ! Maybe the author intended to use the term misguided or misdirected, but I can't stand behind the term misused. Since often times priorities become realigned between the times budgets are submitted and receive final approval and are actually funded, it could be possible that some line items were "reprioritized" in favor of preceived more immediate or more critical concerns, but that's not misuse in my neighborhood. I'd appreciate a bit more of specific definition and notable instances of where monies were misused. Then we can dissect the beast.

A big distinction that needs to be made is that in a business the "misused" funds were obtained through voluntary transactions. The government, on the other hand, gets their monies through coercion. Every April 15th you had better be paid up to Big Brother or face the seizure of your assets or sent to a federal prison. Doesn't exactly build a basis for accountability, now does it?

Also, continued "misuse" of funds in the private sector will ultimately result in the failure and insolvency of the business in question. In the government "misusing" funds usually brings about a multiplicity of non-consequential responses such as, but not limited to: oversight hearings, threats of funding cut-offs and suggestions for more stringent guidelines concerning the oversight of the given spending. Why just in today's headlines we can read: Millions Wasted on Government Travel


Does anyone really expect these misused funds to be recovered? Will anyone lose their job over this? I know I'm tossing softballs but bear with me.

The point is that what we see in the NPS is part of a much larger systemic rot and corruption that pervades the entire framework of the federal government. People like Anon have come to accept the coercive theft and then the misuse of this ill gotten wealth as if it were par for the course in the accepted norms of human behavior. I beg to differ and am sure that this person does not accept the persistent misuse of their own private wealth. Anon certainly can't afford too. None of us can.

Just a clarification.

Lone Hiker,
I was a seasonal national park ranger for ten summers starting out in fire management for three summers and finally working my way up to a GS-5 and an interp job. (My first season in interp, one of this blog's editors was my room mate.) As a park ranger, I earned the NPS Special Achievement Award and was considered highly capable by my supervisors. I worked directly with the public in high-volume parks and VCs on the front lines while trying to work my way into a permanent position, which never happened. I just re-read my journal from 7 years ago, and the frustration was apparent. I gave myself until 30 to get a permanent job or get out of the service (due to lack of health care, money, and stability). I dragged it out until age 32 and am now (very happily) teaching (I am so relieved not to be a seasonal ranger). I worked directly with other "grunts", especially those in resource management. Often, as a seasonal, I was separated from upper management, especially in larger parks. Upper management, I felt by their treatment of us, viewed seasonals with contempt and disdain. I still remember the chief ranger at one park screaming at his subordinate over the radio to "Keep the seasonals off the radio!" during an emergency situation in which we (seasonals) were involved. I also remember many workers saying things like, "Good 'nuff for gov'rment work!"

For a time, I was bitter and disgruntled about not getting the permanent job, about having my life put at risk because of profit and incompetence, about the severe disorganization, about the power hungry Gestapo, and so on. I broke down and freaked out. Later, I wanted to understand more about why government doesn't function and discovered the book "Goverment's End" by Jonathan Rauch. It's not leftist or rightist or even completely libertarian. It opened my eyes, and since reading the book, I've spoken out against the calcification of our government, the NPS included. No longer bitter, I simply want what's best for the places I consider sacred, and I don't think political management and funding of national parks is what's best.

lone hiker- i was the one who posted "misused" and i can tell you, aside from the entity that i run, i see misused and hear about misused funds everywhere. from public radio stations to large corporations, it happens... let's not split semantical hairs here, i meant what i wrote. to deny it is to deny reality.

and as for having me on your payroll? you don't really know me, nor my perspective, so why make a flaming, trollish comment like that here? you don't even know me, so please, take a nicer tone. you'd probably like me, maybe even take a hike in a park with me! (unless you really are a "lone" hiker!) ;)

frank- honestly, i'd like to see some further activity on your blog, it seems like a more appropriate place for the tenor of your comments as well as a more suitable location, perhaps, than one who focuses more on parks *overall* than simply reform. additionally, i'm glad you aren't working for the nps system and are now teaching... you're probably making a greater impact on society in general anyway and we need intelligent, competent, award winning teachers.

There's much to address here, and this is the Haunted Hiker's busiest time of year. But I want to take the time to say a few things.

One: Beamis was an brilliant interpreter and dedicated employee. I don't know Frank (at least I don't think I do) but I wish I did. But then I do have a weakness for crushed idealists. Especially the funny ones.

Two: To dismiss someone's opinions, statements, or rationales because they are "disgruntled" is an ad hominem attack. In other words, lazy logic. I saw supervisors do this over and over again during my 12 years with the NPS. We are all guilty of it from time to time, just like we are all guilty of slouching. Regardless, the NPS is long over due for some well-spoken challenges to the conventional wisdom. Let's straighten our backs and be strong enough to contemplate the insights offered by so-called "disgruntleds"!!!

Three: You can do more (or at least as much) for the parks and the visitors from the outside than you can from the inside.

Gotta go. Spooky Trails y'all!

Thank you for your well wishes. "i'd like to see some further activity on your blog, it seems like a more appropriate place for the tenor of your comments as well as a more suitable location". I enjoy participating in discussion on NPT because it's the best NPS discussion site on the web. Dissent and criticism are necessary to democratic discussions, and this post, due largely to those few who challenge the status quo, has received more comments than any other currently on the front page. Without critics, the site would be silent of significant discussion and debate, and only sycophants would remain; what's the point in that? Until Jeremy or Kurt directly tell me to buzz off, I'll remain a gadfly who presents an opposing view.

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. --David Ben-Gurion

I have always wondered why we don't have an option on our federal tax returns to donate $1 of our refund to the National Parks similar to the option to fund the presidential campaigns. I would think most folks would donate and it's a very efficient way to solicit donations to our national treasures. I would be much more inclined to donate to our parks than to more campaign ads on TV.

Ah, so many issues, so little time......


For three and a half years I served as general manager for a $105MM family of 7-8 units. Annual budget reveiw and approval was one of my main respnsibilities, and I wasn't above rewriting them based on the annual planning stratagies discussed in our corporate planning meetings. I would allocate additional funds for certain areas while eliminating from others based on the focus that we at corporate dictated that each unit pursue for the upcomming fiscal year. Through what some might label as micro-managing, I would then closely track the expenditures of each entity to ensure that our focus was being implemented and properly administrated by the unit managers. I have since embarked on a career in the sciences, and have been placed in charge of establishing a research laboratory. In both cases, total responsibility for all things related to how and why monies are allocated fall directly onto my shoulders. Maybe due to this forced accountability, and the level of ethical pride that was instilled in me years ago, I cannot sanction, condone, or understand the concept of "misused" funds. To say otherwise would, like yourself, be untrue to my principles. You're correct in stating that I don't know you......nor do I know any of the regular contributors to this site. I trust that you are all intelligent, decent, respectable folk, since I have no evidence to the contrary. I just might, as you suggest, enjoy you as a person. And you would be most welcome to join me on my next trans-canyon trek across the Colorado, along the Appalachian Trail, into the Narrows, across some Civil War battlefield site or elsewhere. But after some period of days, you're likely to hear more comments that would confirm my position as your "troll", as I don't suffer fools lightly in any aspect of life, and sooner or later, I'm sure I'd commit another faux pax regarding some issue you hold dear. But no personal affront was then or is now intended, I assure you.


I apologize for taking much longer to reply than did yourself, and thank you to both you and Beamis for the biographical data. My intent was to determine the extent of the level of interaction that you both allude to in various posts, and what level of management you have been influenced by and interacted with during your tenure. It is most unfortunate that mediocraty is the rule rather than the exception, but as I mentioned to Beamis, the few good people in federal offices seem to have little staying power due the tolerance and in some cases fostering nature of building and maintaining a staff with the sole intention of surrounding one's self with people of lesser talents, abilities and ambitions solely to make yourself appear "larger than life", thus solidifying your future within the department. Unfortunately, our current governing bodies are ripe with these types of management at more levels in more departments that you would care to believe. Rangers hired at less than GS-5? No wonder they can't find enough good people. It's hard to get by on $24K annually, even single and living at home! The adage regarding government work is as old as the hills, and as true. But when you don't empower people such that they have no role in determining their future, what can you expect? I'm not attempting to rationalize, just overstating the obvious I guess.

I'm familiar with Rauch's work. I gather not too many people are due to their inability to understand I can take the stance that I do regarding our politcal system, being a proud member of NEITHER side, both losers in my opinion. Those of us who project independence are too often labeled "libertarian", another term invented by the media.
When I stress the term INDEPENDENT, I'm usually confronted with "independent Dem or independent Rep?". Jeez, get a clue folks, independent means INDEPENDENT! As in, not dependent on EITHER side. Next they'll be calling me a Separatist, God forbid.

My plan centered around the "Public Land in Public Hands" mantra actually came to me some 6-7 years ago, and unfortunately I've yet to find the time to start the organization process. But you're quite correct, the current state of affairs isn't worthy of much besides the scrap pile, as it hasn't worked, and it's progression has been one of regression of late. The federal government obviously isn't concerned with the current state of affairs, only with the opportunity to generate further profits from the "public" lands without the monies going to public cuncerns. Ah, the continued raping of a nation, what WILL they think of next? As I mentioned previously, there are indeed methods of legally taking back what is ours, as a people of this nation, and turning they system around to work for us as members of this society. Unfortuantely, it will take quite some time and there will be legal battles, probably up to the Supreme Court level. Fortunately, the Constitution has some mentions that can be used to build a case around, making this a bit less tedious a fight as one might believe. After winning that approval, the dominos fall fairly easily into place, in terms of consolidation of current resources. Management, administration, and new funding sources are the major hurdles that will require much for intense planning and execution in order to realign the current system into a fully functioning entity. More exacting details to come, I promise.............