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.

Comments

Kurt, I'm surprised that are former NP rangers on this blog have not commented on this article...not a peep so far. Although, a pittance of a crime in comparsion in what some of Bushs lackeys have gotten away with. Ms. Bucello will pay for the crime and dwindle in the wind with a ruin reputation. I'm not sure if she looses her 30 year pension. But, there some ex-congressman who have been convicted on a more serious crime and sitting quite pretty with a damn nice pension plan. I guess crime does pay for the smooth talking jaded (a worhtless horse) politician who screws the American taxpayer.

I'm not sure what point is being made by Anonymous.

Is it that poor Mrs. Buccello got the raw end of the stick? Or that some get away with crime and others don't? What is there to say about this fairly straight forward story? She admitted her crimes and will now pay the price. End of story.

If I'm missing something would y'all please let me know?

Beamis, my apology for not being more concise. Since you were a former government employee, would you know if you are allowed to keep your pension (retirement plan) if convicted on grand theft? Seems like, the higher you go up the government ladder (regarding your prestigious status) and if you get caught with your hands in the till, you still get to keep the fat retirement check. Right! In Ms. Buccello case, I said enough to reckon that she is not eligible for rehire. The crime speaks for its self but not the free pension...if she's a felon! I hope my point is clear ranger!

I would have commented sooner, but I've just put in a 55 hour week at my 33 hour a week job.

Six months? In some country club? Sentence her to a season of trail work at Yosemite and make her work off her crime rebuilding America's greatest national park. Maybe then she'll appreciate the error of her ways and see the effects of waste on our national treasures.

I don't know the answer to Anon's question. There seems to be no consistency in NPS punishments for misconduct. I knew a person who lost their pension over a $120 discrepancy in their Maintenance discretionary account but also knew of a departing district ranger who supposedly took six NPS badges as souvenirs and nothing was done about that. It seems to be capricious at best.

Frank and Beamis, crime to fit the punishment...depends who you are. Heard of cases where poor souls get thrown into the slammer (3 years for the first offense) for stealing a six pack of beer. How about being black and crossing the street behind a white women, next thing your accused of rape...later lynched! True case in the deep south! All kinds of discrepancies in crime and punishment...pending on your rank and file in life as a big fish. Maintenance decretionary mistake for $120.00 (likely a honest accounting error) and the guy gets canned...sounds like a set up.

Maintenance discretionary mistake for $120.00 (likely a honest accounting error) and the guy gets canned...sounds like a set up.

To hear the person who was canned tell the story, they believe it was a set-up from the word go. I don't know the other side of the story so I can't say for sure but it did seem strange to me at the time, especially in light of later revelations of misconduct that were literally swept under the rug for people much higher up the career ladder.

So in essence, the opinion you're all expressing is that the NPS system is no different than corporate America or our wonderful governmental corruption. Is that a surprise to anyone? The bigger they are the less they fall. The lower and middle classes comprise well over 99% of the residents of your local jail, but is anyone naive enough to believe they're the only ones responsible for crimes against the American public? Can someone sit there with a straight face and claim that by percentage the wealthy are only 1% of the populace? The wealthy have better access to the upper echelon of shyster lawyers and can afford to pay off a corrupt judicial system. This country's current state of affairs reads suspiciously like France before Lou and Marie went to the chopping block. Anybody care to assist in construction of the scaffold?

Ms. buccello's offenses are more egregious because she scammed some of her free tickets by cancelling official duty flights -one was a death notification to the wife of a slain ranger- and then redeemed the tickets for later personal use. Then she lied about it. How low can you get? The posters above are quite right; there is a horrible double-standard in disciplinary issues, depending upon the employee's GS-rank and political status. Few government managers really get taken down as hard as field-level employees for similar offenses. Ms. Buccello will most likely escape prison time, and since she pleaded guilty to a misdemenor instead of a felony, she will be allowed to carry firearms. She will undoubtably receive her government retirement for life, courtesy of the taxpayers she ripped off. This is a real slight to the vast majority of National Park Service field rangers who are honest, and whose pensions will be much less than hers. And, some of the rangers Buccello investigated, presumably for lessor crimes than she admitted to, won't receive law enforcement retirement at all.

This is a quote from a current NPS employee that was posted in the comments section below the Pat Buccello news article (which can be accessed by clicking the above link in Kurt's piece titled "according to reports"). It seems that it's not just FORMER employees that know that there is systemic rot in the NPS. More and more current employees are speaking up too.

"If anyone is naive enough to think this even warrants a raised eyebrow, you're misinformed, misguided or don't get out much. The NPS is only one agency that is completely rife with nepotism, favoritism and the REGULAR promotion or transfer of the worst the American workforce has to offer. No one at any level wants to address this sort of thing and it is absolutely swept under the rug if at all possible, which it is most of the time. If you're in it to do an honest days wotk on a level playing field, you're in the wrong agency. For all the rhetoric about "most of us are doing a good job", it's past that. Truly, most of the people are trying to do a good job. The system itself is broken. The agency is corrupt and has been for at least my nearly 20 years with it. Sad fact that this is only one little corner of the government that is filled with this sort of thing."

This is funny. This type of "crime" has gone on for many decades. My in-laws both worked with the BOI and I think my father-in-law built up a nice workshop with Gov't tools. I know he sure passed some my way. I can remember when the Fed budget wasn't passed during Clinton's term and they all had a paid 3 week vacation. My in-laws came to visit and whined and whined about being out of work for 3 weeks. After a couple days of that I reminded them it was a "paid vacation" and one that no workin stiff who pays their wages would EVER get. They got in a huff and left in their motorhome for other more friendly places. Oh yeah, they did get paid for that lost time. That, to me, was the same as stealing the taxpayer's money.

I am truly astounded by the continuing commentary that is being placed below the article on Pat Buccello's guilty plea to the theft of $10,000 from the NPS. It has now been 17 days since this news piece appeared on the web, yet current and former rangers (mostly LE) continue daily to share their frustration and anger at an agency that they see as overwhelmingly corrupt and cynically career driven. Their biggest beefs are nepotism, cover-ups and rampant criminality.

It's a slant on things you won't hear coming from Bill Wade or Mary Bomar.

Check it out: http://snipurl.com/1ts8h

Nepotism is rampant. In the national seashore I worked, I was told by higher up LEs that in order to get the chief ranger they wanted, they also had to hire his wife as chief interp. She ran interp into the ground, and after her husband retired, they created a special position for her (since they couldn't fire her for incompetence) and took away her chief interp duties. I've seen other examples of blatant nepotism as several other national parks. Cover-ups? How about the 2002 sewage spill in Munson Creek at Crater Lake? It was as serious as the 1970s spill, but few knew about it. I found out during a trip to the Summer Solstice party and poking around Munson Creek, finding yellow biohazard tape everywhere, asking questions, and getting unofficial, off the record answers. That never made the news. Oh, then there was the shooting incident at Mazama Village, too, which was all hush-hush. People I knew who were working at CRLA were told not to say anything to anyone about the incident, and they wouldn't even give me their opinion for fear of losing their jobs. Criminality? I've witnessed supervisors breaking employment law on several occasions. Some have told me how they snatched up badges without serial numbers. The NPS is rife with corruption and career mindedness. It's time to put an end to this atrocious waste of taxpayer money.

It should come as no great surprise that some dual career appointments work out well in parks and some don't--not unlike any appointment. I helped make several dual career appointments during my career that worked out very well. As to nepotism being rampant, I doubt it. There are very few places where there is a sufficient diversity of positions available to make husband and wife teams possible. Many couples, therefore, spend long periods of time working apart. Despite what Frank may think, it's not that easy when NPS employees get married.

I can't speak for Mary Bomar but I do know Wade pretty well. I know that he does not condone the actions of Pat Buccello any more than I do. I don't get the part about rampant criminality. Beamis and Frank are convinced it exists. I'm convinced it doesn't. Frank claims he has seen supervisors breaking employment law on several occasions. I hope he brought those instances to the attention of park management, but I guess he wouldn't because he doesn't seem to trust them either.

I also don't get the part about badges with numbers. The only use of the numbers of my badgees were for property records. I always wore a name tag on my uniform. When a visitor asked me who I was, I didn't say that I was badge 3016. I said I was Rick Smith and pointed to my name tag.

As to cover ups, I am sure that some have occurred. Frank believes he has tracked down two instances. There are probably more. On balance, however, I found during my career that the NPS was pretty up front about admitting its mistakes. It's also been pretty strainght forward with some of its harshest critics. I remember Bob Barbee, the superintendent of Yellowstone, talking with Alston Chase on network TV about their divergent opinions regarding the Yellowstone ecosystem. Walt Dabney appeared almost nigntly on network news shows during the Yellowstone fires of 1988 to answer critics of the federal government's fire management policies. I'm not sure that the NPS has always been as transparent as I would have wished, but I left the NPS satisfied that the agency did not routinely sweep things under the rug.

Frank and Beamis' careers seem to have shown them a side of the NPS that I didn't often see. I only worked in 6 parks, two regional offices and the headquarters office in DC. Their experience may have been much more extensive than mine was; it was apparently much less pleasant.

Rick Smith

Rick I'm curious about your reaction to the comments from current rangers below the article that I cited with a link. Do you think they are also seeing a side to the NPS that is not often seen (at least by you) or are they maybe telling it like it is? Could there be a kernel of truth in these seemingly heartfelt revelations?

I sure witnessed my share of cover-ups and criminality, it's one of the main reasons that I left a highly awarded and promising career track. The fact that Pat Buccello was allowed to retire tells me everything I need to know. Where else can you steal $10,000 and then get to retire on full benefits? What you did or did not see doesn't change the fact that a lot of former and current employees understand all too well that the inner workings of this agency does not pass the smell test.

Well, I read those comments, also. I am tempted to say that it is the same 4 or 5 people making multiple comments, but I can't be sure. Of course, if you are "chronically disgruntled", are a "nihilist" or feel "marginalized, you are more likely to comment on an issue like Ms. Buccello's conduct. Those of us who abhor it are less likely to comment since she is apparently going to pay for what she did.

As to her retirement, the NPS probably has nothing to do with it. Retirements are handled by the Office of Personnel Management qnd the Civil Service Retirement System. I am not an expert in this area and will defer to anyone who is, but her crime may not have risen to the level that would allow the government to deny her annuity. All I am saying is that we shouldn't be too quick to hang something on the NPS over which it may have little control.

Once again, I will say that I am sorry that some of the people who post on NPT had such rotten experiences with the NPS I didn't. Most of the NPS retirees with whom I communicate didn't either. I know a lot of current NPS employees. I don't hear anything from them about wholesale corruption or criminality within the Service. When they talk about poor morale, they attribute it to the jpressures of working for an Administration with such a sorry environmental record. It's that record that worries me.

Rick Smith

Poor morale, underfunding, maintenance backlogs and such are the common shopworn refrains that I heard all through the Clinton years as well as during both Bush administrations. Trying to pin this on a White House occupant is as disingenuous as saying that the agency has very little control over its personnel policies due to OPM rules. Pass the buck and then sweep the problems under the rug.

I also know a lot of people who are currently working for the NPS and many are scrambling to get out. Others say it is as bad as it's ever been but are staying because they still think working in a park is a worthy endeavor but even they are keeping their eyes on other opportunities.

Of course those who retired peacefully aren't going to be the ones raising a stink, that's how they managed to make it to retirement! "Go along, get along" was a mantra repeated to me more times than I care to remember during my career, usually from a fat & happy mid to upper level manager.

You can continue to marginalize and rationalize the motivations of those who are speaking out and claim that it is news to you that something is terribly wrong with an organization that thinks the theft of $10,000 "may not have risen to the level that would allow the government to deny her annuity." OPM rules or not where's your outrage?

The American public is increasingly aware of the poor service, shabby facilities and surly attitudes directed their way by the rangers they all once looked up to. If you think this steep decline is going unnoticed by all but a few "disgruntled" people on a website you're dead wrong.

Rick,
Thanks for engaging in the dialog.

I can't remember if you worked at Crater Lake. I have many, many more examples from Crater Lake. One instance involves a whistle blower who exposed the dangerous conditions surrounding tour boat operations. He was an interpreter, and after blowing the whistle, he wasn't hired again at the park. There was a lawsuit. I can't remember all the details. It was very hush-hush and the park tried to sweep it under the rug.

About the badges: Each badge has a property number stamped on the back. One employee told about getting two badges--right from the manufacturer--that had never been used and had no property numbers on them. I have heard and witnessed many more examples of such thievery, and while they're not to the scale of Ms. Buccello's crime, they're crimes nonetheless.

One instance of employment law violation I did bring to the attention of management and was referred to the Regional Equal Opportunity Manager where I filed a complaint. I didn't report other instances due to my precarious position as a seasonal employee who could be terminated at any time for any reason.

I'm not "chronically disgruntled", nor a "nihilist", and no longer feel "marginalized", although I often did as a seasonal NPS employee. Perhaps that's part of the difference: seasonal employees see and experience things differently than do some who are safely entrenched in the civil service. I love my current life and profession, and reflect upon my overall experience in uniform fondly; I forged many enduring relationships and have albums upon albums of photos documenting an adventurous and exciting period of my life.

There are, however, some serious issues I encountered with the NPS. The NPS has what I'd call "dirty little secrets" (In fact, my book in progress--if I ever finish it--has a chapter with the same title). While it may be that there are "4 or 5 people making multiple comments", I'd argue these people are commenting because they have nothing to lose. I've chosen never to work for the NPS again, as have several other NPT commentors. Those who work or hope to work for the NPS generally won't risk speaking out for fear of reprisal. This is a well-documented aspect of the NPS. Jeremy even wrote an article on it in Park Remark (Speak Out, Get Fired?). In fact, Jeremy created Park Remark hoping to create a place for current rangers to discuss serious concerns and issues regarding the NPS, but most wouldn't, even anonymously. There's a culture of fear in the NPS, and I'm very surprised you've not experienced or heard about it. Most current and former employees I talk to--again, my circle was mostly seasonal--have similar stories.

Gang:

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...

...EVEN AT YOUR OWN INCONVENIENCE?

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

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.

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

Rick Smith

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.

Rick:

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.

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.

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.

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.