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Park Service's Top Investigator Pleads Guilty To Theft


After nearly 30 years with the National Park Service, Patricia Buccello retired last Friday after serving most recently as the agency's top special agent in charge. Yesterday she entered a guilty plea to stealing from the Park Service.

The case revolved around using a government credit card to buy airline tickets to fly from Washington, D.C., to Maine, where Ms. Buccello's husband is a ranger at Acadia National Park.

While Ms. Buccello pleaded guilty to buying more than $4,000 worth of tickets over a two-year period, apparently the total dollar amount was more than $10,000, according to reports.

When her sentencing day rolls around, Ms. Buccello could be handed a prison term of six months.


It's not just the NPS. There seems to be a moral and ethical decline in our society. I dealt with Pat on another business level and I found that she was not completely honest. This is something I have been experiencing this with increasing frequency with clients. To generalize, I think it's a two fold problem.
1. There are a lot of people out there who will do whatever it takes to save a buck or keep that "wallet filled with cash" they find on the street if they think they can get away with it.
2. There are broader issues of trust rampant in our society. We don't seem to be able to trust each other. This is in no small part because of #1, and when the media bombards us with "bad" news it teaches us that there are nothing but villans out there.

Just remember that there is good AND bad wherever you go - and I'm sure this applies to the NPS. Just keep your head down and do the right thing and at least you can be MOSTLY assured that YOU wont get in trouble.

NPCA consistently lobbys for more funding for the NPS. While the Parks are underfunded, just giving the Park Service more money means that the top managers will only waste more money. Before the IG put a stop to it, Buccello was commuting back and forth to her Maine home at government expense, even though her official duty station was supposed to be DC. That wasted at least $60,000, money which could have been put to use hiring several seasonal rangers (remember what seasonal rangers were?).
Appropriating more money to properly manage the National Parks is needed, but also some budget controls which are sorely lacking.

Pat was a peer, then - as the NPS attempted to create a 'line authority' special agent corps - she threw in (conspired) with a small group that had a plan to take control... (I and most others were excluded from the plan and dialogue). Not surprisingly, she and most of the group became the new power brokers/managers of the program. The culture of the NPS seems to breed this type of behaviour. As far as blame - she had her dirty big secrets - she betrayed the trust of the position, she violated the law and she was unethical. She would never have been able to testify for the prosecution again because all of her past (and future) statements became suspect the moment she was caught lying. This same scenario would apply to her official statements, personnell actions and decisions. It was apparent to many that she promoted those she favored and that she held back those who represented a potential threat. Blaming the President: The NPS has very few conservatives in its ranks - and this administration has provided more funding than ever before for the NPS - so any finger pointing in that direction is misplaced. To guage how dug in NPS top managers can be - try to find out which of the law enforcement implementation directives - ordered by the Inspector Generals office several years ago, have been fully carried out.


My experience with NPS management was totally different than yours. One example: A field employee who suffered unbelievable harassment from the top management of my park. She had the misfortune of being an eyewitness to a personnel incident. What she observed was inconsistent with management's version, which had the aim of protecting a favored supervisor. A few other park employees, knowing which way the wind was blowing, supported the official version with questionable testimony. Management's actions against the witness who wouldn't change her testimony was classic witness intimidation. The victim hired an attorney, filed an EEO complaint, then endured a 3 year nightmare of harassment, intimidation, slander, endless investigative hearings, etc. In the end, her career was essentially ruined even though she received a monetary award and a transfer. None of the managers involved were punished, and some of their "Witnesses" were promoted for their loyalty. This incident is not atypical.

I agree with your statement that you worked for the National Parks and not for the Agency. Working in and for some of the premier remaining natural areas in our country is indeed an honor and privilege, and should only lead to rewarding careers. I was also proud to be a NPS Ranger. Yours was the same attitude I maintained during the latter years of my NPS career, until too much alienation prompted me to go elsewhere.

Pleading down to a misdemeanor from a felony is not new. In perspective, Oliver North confessed to treason before Congress, and they made him a millionaire in a body armor company selling to the government, ran him for the Senate, and gave him a television show.

What has happened throughout government since the days of "Jolly Ollie" is a reflection of the society at large, where the "ME" generation has taken over. Ethics and a concern for perserving not only the planet, but self-respect, has all but disappeared in a search for either wealth, power, or both.

NPS, BLM, Forest Service and the resource agencies have taken severe hits, budgetary, and through an infusion of the incompetent at top levels through a process that has been corrupted. Civil Service reform since '78 has led to the return of the spoils system.

Today an attorney who left government to work for Lockheed Martin stated on CNN he went where there was a higher ethical standard. Considering Lockheed has the contracts for much of the illegal interrogation we are conducting, one can only wonder what's up. Reading Valery Plame Wilson's book "Fair Game" the redactions in the text display the pernicious psychosis and contempt for honor and ethics at CIA.

We face a society that accepts a video game version of both war and the National Park experience as an acceptable alternate reality. Ethics is also an "alternate reality".

Fraud and theft are totally unacceptable and discharge and a little jail time is the minimum penalty acceptable. The real problem is that our society and too many within our agencies only perceive being stupid enough to get got as the crime.

This will be my last comment on this thread. Most of the people with whom I worked owed their allegiance to the National Park System, not the National Park Service. Our work was our avocation, not a vocation. I wanted my actions to be measured by what I did for parks, not how well I executed budgets or performed other routine tasks. Maybe I was lucky and the people who post on this site, unlucky. I don't remember seeing any cases of administrative lawlessness or criminal behavior committed by the managers for whom I workied. When I left the protection division to become a manager myself, I dealt with other superintendents and senior staff. Sure, there were some who weren't very good. Some even had to be removed from their positions. But, again on balance, it was an honest, hard-working group of people who were trying to accomplish the three things that every park must do: preserve and protect the resources within the park (I know that some posters on this site don't like the word "resources", but it serves as useful shorthand here); provide quality visitor services; and maintain productive relationships with park interest groups. I always thought that any superintendent who did those three things well was successful.

Look, what Ms. Buccello did is regretable. I don't believe, however, that her conduct is the norm in the NPS. either among its law enforcement personnel or its managers. I guess others of you do. That makes me sad because I was proud of being a ranger and proud of what we were doing to help connect park visitors to their natural and cultural heritage. And when I visit parks now, I still see that process of discovery occurring. I suspect some of you will think that that's a bit sappy, but I believe it is an essential part of why parks are important in a country that is rapidly closing in on its remaining wild places and increasingly careless with its history.


Rick Smith

I have to side with Frank and Bemis, and against Rick, who I respect. I saw so much administrative lawlessness and criminal behavior by NPS managers, at several of the units that I worked, that I left the agency and never came back. Whistleblowing or bringing up such criminal behavior to higher levels only invites reprisal which, while being illegal, seldom results in corrective action against the manager. I can't say that I ever saw a NPS manager really punished for breaking the law; hopefully PB's case marks a step in that direction.


I'm going to bypass Simple Proposals #13 & 14 to post my final Simple Proposal, as it seems entirely relevant to this discussion. #13 & 14 will come in due time. Stay tuned.

My last Simple Proposal is about YOU.

Are you just a government employee, taking the path of least resistance to career advancement and eventual comfortable retirement?

Are you content to go along with the latest initiative? To quietly attend meaningless meetings without questioning their value? To see boatloads of tax dollars wasted on bureaucratic processes and procedures? To sacrifice the Mission in the name of vague and irrelevant objectives? To treat your employer (the taxpayer) as more of a burden than an asset?

And does following such an easy path make you feel your career (nay, your life) has any meaning?

Or are you prepared to get to know--and love--your park? To resist wateful bureaucracy? To support your most valuable employees? To respect those visitors who matter? To care about things of real substance? And to consider the Mission in your actions...


Simple Proposal #15: Think. Speak out. Act. And, for God's sake, show some courage!

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