Updated: NPS Director Jarvis Ends "Core Ops" Budgeting Across The National Park System

In a brief, four-paragraph memorandum, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis has brought to an end a budgeting process that stripped arguably key positions from parks. Dubbed "core ops" for its approach to analyzing a park's core operations, the process failed to produce wise budgeting decisions, the director said in a letter to his regional directors.

"Core ops" was instituted during the Bush administration by Intermountain Regional Director Mike Snyder. Intended to save precious dollars by eliminating operations that were not central to a park's core operation, the process forced superintendents to make tough, and at times questionable, decisions.

For instance, at Dinosaur National Monument the superintendent decided to cut two of the three positions in her paleontological department, at an annual savings of roughly $200,000 in salaries and benefits, so she could, in part, afford more law enforcement staff. Elsewhere in the Intermountain Region, officials at Canyonlands National Park did away with a deputy superintendent's position when the incumbent retired to save $122,000, and Rocky Mountain National Park officials filled a deputy superintendent's job with a division chief, and then left that position vacant to make ends meet.

In a letter (attached below) sent to his regional directors November 20, NPS Director Jarvis said the agency has better tools -- such as its Budget Cost Projection model and the NPS Scorecard -- for seeing that budgets are prudently crafted.

"As director I want to emphasize use of management tools that empower managers with unbiased data and analysis to make informed decisions, improve the justification and presentation of our budgets, and improvement the management of our financial resources. Based on extensive feedback I have received from field managers I believe that the Core Operations process fails to meet these requirements," he wrote.

At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade praised Director Jarvis's action.

"I am very pleased to see that Director Jarvis has ended this debacle. It was an absolutely stupid process - born out of the minds of those who placed a higher value on efficiency (saving money) than on effectiveness," said Mr. Wade, who chairs the council's executive committee. "We never heard of a single case where the process ended up with a result that improved the capability of meeting the mission of the park involved, much less being worth the time and money invested in carrying out the process."

The Traveler has asked the Intermountain Regional office for reports assessing the impact of the core ops process, and for Regional Director Snyder's reaction to the directive.

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Comments

Being a CPA, I constantly advise people under budget constraints that is not how much you make it is how much you spend. What I see in businesses and government is that we have way too many chiefs and not enough indians to use a popular metaphor with no intent to deride my native indian friends. Part of being a superintendent is setting priorities. Overhead in any organization should be addressed first to see if any "non-productive" expenses can be cut first-not the person producing the "widgets". One of my biggest gripes with our government is that we waste billions on non-essential activities and giving billions to countries that hate or do not support us where we could be using those same billions to improve our National Park System-our gift to ourselves. Unfortunately, the superintendents have to make those hard choices, just as we do in our personal and business lives. I have a novel idea--let's start with the "core ops" in the Washington DC office of the Interior Department before we move to the Parks themselves. I will bet you I could find additional funds for our parks!

Leland 22--

Let me give you another take on Core Ops, this one from the point of view of an NPS retiree who still has lots of contacts in the NPS. Core Ops was primarily applied in the Intermountain Region (IMR) of the NPS, the one that stretches from Montana to the Mexican border. The Regional Director, Mike Snyder, is the brains behind Core Ops. This is how I see it:

Core Operations was Mike Snyder's own personal reign of terror over the parks and park employees ironically entrusted to his care as a National Park Service Regional Director. The hatching and execution of Core Operations underscored Snyder's career-long total lack of park experience and blatant ignorance of day-to-day park operations.

Core Ops was short sighted and didn't allow park managers to leverage various fund sources and annual predictable lapse funds which enable parks to flex around tighter budgets. Managers need to be fiscally responsible and should be held accountable for their management or mismanagement. Core Ops missed the mark on every count. It homogenized parks and took away the authority of superintendents to manage their parks, their budgets and lead their employees. Millions of dollars were spent by Snyder and his Core Ops team on countless trips to IMR parks to jump park staffs through the hoops of Core Ops workshops. The outcomes were already decided by Snyder and yet park after park and employee after employee were made to go through convoluted exercises to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Work plans, performance plans and many documents for the years hence have had to reference a park's Core Operations report no matter how irrelevant or useless the document was to a park.

Snyder and others of his team willingly sacrificed dedicated NPS employees for job abolishment to receive high marks from Department officials of the previous Administration. I imagine he received significant Senior Executive Service bonuses under the former Administration based on his development and execution of Core Operations. In the last year or so, the IM regional office has gone on a hiring spree of epic proportions. And many of these are newly created positions. It has not gone unnoticed in the parks.

Present and former employees of the IMR, including those who were "Core Oped" will rejoice as this news becomes known.The biggest difference between Mike Snyder and Jon Jarvis is that Jarvis has both a brain and a heart. Jarvis also spent most of his career in parks - and it shows!

Rick Smith

Rick Smith could not hit the nail any better than this.

As one who has worked for the NPS for over 30 years I can honestly say that the Core Ops process was flawed from the very beginning and only got worse through time as Snyder and his hit squad, very few of whom had any recent park experience (if indeed any at all), continued to raid park after park. It was the single most devastating event on employee morale that I've ever witnessed. That it was supossedly park based was ludicous - some decisions had been made before the workshops even began and if the so-called participatory process at the park didn't achieve the hoped for results well then it was just back to the closed door brokerage sessions between Superintendents and the so-called experts from region in order to arrive at the preordained lean and mean park structure. There was virtually no concept of a National Park System - only individual units and what their particular legislation did or didn't say.

Of course the Bush Administration embraced the concept - it treated park operations in the Intermountain Region much like Bush treated all of his cronies - get rid of a bunch of the "little people" out there on the ground doing real work with real park resources and park visitors and bring in all sorts of high-graded underqualified people to the regional office... you're right Rick - nobody in the field has not noticed the hiring spree in Denver.

Core Ops may have been based on a good concept but how it was implemented was a disaster. You don't start at the field level to eliminate waste, you start at the top. There was very little acknowledgement of the endless hours that park staffs spend responding to mindless tasks required by the central offices, most of which have very little value if any to the day-to-day operations at the park level. Far too much emphasis was/is placed on process rather than progress and once the deciders have decided it's career suicide to challenge or question their infinite wisdom.

If this is the only thing Jon Jarvis accomplishes in his tenure as NPS Director he'll still go down in history as the best Director since George Hartzog. Thank-you Jon Jarvis for giving the field one of the best Christmas gifts imaginable.

I'm fairly new in the govt and couldn't agree more!! You just made my day by sharing this because, at the park level, we havn't even seen this memo yet!

Thanks for the insight Rick. And, thanks for digging into these little-reported stories Kurt.

rob
---
Executive Director,
Crater Lake Institute
www.craterlakeinstitute.com
Robert Mutch Photography

The controversy about Core Ops has raised lots of questions about how some of our national parks have been setting budget priorities and spending money. At Mesa Verde National Park, for instance---one of the parks within the Intermountain Region---a number of important and necessary positions had been left vacant for over a year while the park's original estimated travel budget for fiscal year 2009 was as high as $421,000----later reduced to just over $285,000. There was something wrong here---not only in how the park had done its budgeting, but in whether there had been any oversight or auditing of the park's budget. (In the interest of "full disclose" I should add that this past summer I did begin asking about this, eventually filed a formal FOIA request, and a lot has happened since them---see http://www.schundler.net/FOIA.htm )

Travel and entertainment expenses have been problems for years. Among small business owners they are the focus of frequent audits by the IRS, within corporations they are among the most scrutinized expenditures, and among tax accountants and attorneys they are the subject of endless debates. They are problematic because sometimes they are used as legitimate incentives and rewards for hardworking and deserving employees, and sometimes they are related to justifiable marketing and sales activities, to necessary and appropriate educational programs, and/or to valid meetings of management groups with outside vendors and regulators, and distant employees and customers. Unfortunately, travel and entertainment expenses also can be used inappropriately, illegally, and as no more than a thinly disguised effort to characterize personal expenses and activities as tax deductible business expenses, or to have the deep pockets of a business enterprise pay for trips and activities which have no real business purpose. To be sure, a lot of what is characterized as business related travel and entertainment expense is very legitimate.....but there is a lot that is not. Agents of the Internal Revenue Service know this, business owners and managers know this, and corporate shareholders know it. Consequently, in the private sector there are many checks and balances, and frequent auditing of expense accounts and a higher degree of due diligence when expenses related to travel and entertainment are concerned.

Perhaps it’s time to become more careful and deliberate in how we view travel and entertainment expenses within the National Park Service. Perhaps it’s time to audit travel expenses more carefully, and to ask again and again: what are legitimate travel expenses for National Park Service employees? What kind of travel is justifiable? How much travel is necessary? And when should the Park Service be willing to pay for the travel and expenses related to education and training?

There is no doubt that employees of the National Park Service are dedicated. Many work for the Park Service because it’s special, it’s different, and it’s loved. Nevertheless, for some, working for the Park Service also can be difficult. Stationed far away from towns and communities, virtually isolated in remote and inaccessible sites, and/or spending days and months leading the same tours, responding to the same questions, and following the same routines again, and again, and again......eventually some begin to look for reasons to spend more time outside the parks.

There are stories of superintendents who seldom are in the park. And there are rumors of people who take courses in subjects they will never use, of people who repeat the same off-site courses year after year, and of those who get overly involved in each and every trade association, special interest group, or interagency or intra-agency function. And the need to collaborate, coordinate, and interact with organizations, committees, and groups both within the Park Service and outside the Park Service often seems to have no limits.

Of course, the problem with excessive travel is not just the expense of the traveling itself, but also the lost time involved when someone is not in the park and not focusing on the primary requirements of their position description, and the consequential need for others to do what the traveling person should have been doing.

I have only worked for three seasons as a seasonal....and I have loved each and every day. I love working with visitors and with being a part of the National Park Service; and I love the many opportunities we have to help people, to increase their appreciation of the parks, and to broaden their horizons. But I have also seen problems.

Simply stated, I think money being spent on unnecessary travel is a serious problem within the National Park Service as a whole, and within some particular parks and regions in particular. There needs to be more oversight, better controls, and more frequent audits. It’s time to begin looking at travel the way many businesses do: asking questions, seeking justifications, and scrutinizing any and all expenses for travel and entertainment.

For instance, we should be looking more carefully at any plans to travel and asking: Is this trip or meeting really necessary? Will it measurably enhance our visitor services and the experience of visitors? Is a meeting at a distant location or at the regional offices really necessary, or could it be replaced by a carefully organized conference call? And will having this person attend a particular training event or take a particular off-site course save the park money, significantly improve something the park or staff was missing, or have real benefit to the park, or will it simply add to one person’s resume, or increase one person’s list of courses taken or add to their life experiences?

There are times when making decisions about travel can be difficult. How do you draw the line between what’s really necessary and what’s not? For instance, it would be nice if the Director of the NPS or regional directors could attend the funeral of every park employee, or the retirement events of every long-term employee, but can that be justified? Do we really want the Director or regional leadership spending all their time going to funerals and retirement parties? Getting involved on on-going Interpretive Development Programs can be helpful, but what does it mean if that results in the Chief of Interpretation or the interpretive Supervisors not having enough time to work with their own staff, or enough time to teach those interpretive skills regularly and conscientiously to their own interpretive rangers? And so admittedly, the process of deciding which travel is necessary and justifiable is not easy, but it can be done, it should be done, and in the private sector, it’s often done every day and for every trip.

Of course, sometimes the best way to control spending on travel is simply to make travel budgets and expenditures very open and transparent. Knowing that your co-workers and the public know where you are going and that they will know how you are spending your time and spending taxpayer money often is the best incentive for self-regulation and self-control.

On the day of his inauguration, President Obama wrote: “A democracy requires accountability, and accountability requires transparency.” Maybe it is time for National Park Service travel expenses to become very accessible and very transparent. Maybe it’s time for some changes.


Thank goodness!! Its about time Mike Snyder reign of terror ends, especially this pet project of his. Rick Smith could nto be more right. Its to bad that so much damage has already been done.

I could not agree more with Rick Smith.

Core Ops was an utter failure.

RD Snyder continues to lead the IMR region into chaos. Morale continues to fall.

Core Ops and Mike Snyder taught me to be a cynic with regard to Interior and the NPS.

I am intimately familiar with Core Ops because I went through the whole process at the park I used to work at and ultimately became a victim of it. In my 20+ years as an NPS employee (resource mgmt) I never saw such an ill-conceived plan, or one that was so rife with corruption and petty politics. I believe that it was used by Snyder in concert with various park superintendents in a vindictive manner with largely preordained results; in other words, it targeted individuals as well as particular programs that either rubbed him the wrong way or didn't meet his personal vision of the NPS. At BEST it may have been used on some occasions to eliminate some "dead wood", and god knows there's plenty of that in the NPS (and much more so than in the private sector because the system protects the useless and incompetent, even promotes them). But using a process like Core Ops to eliminate dead wood is the most gutless way to deal with personnel issues. This process was just plain evil, hurt individuals and unquestionably set back some park's programs for decades to come.

As part of the money wasting process that some previous comments have alluded to, our park had a visit prior to the actual "Core workshop" by some gal who had the job of softening the terrain before the reign of terror began. The whole park spent an excruciating day learning about "Change" and what a wonderful thing it was and not to be fearful of it. They could have saved the taxpayers a fortune and just had the superintendents say, hey look, some of you have targets on your backs so prepare. Did other parks also go through this before the visitation from Core? I'd love to know how much money they spent on this sort of thing alone. Perhaps this was their touchy-feely way of trying to reassure themselves that one of their own wouldn't go postal, and worth the cost?

At my park they allowed all program managers in on the process, not just division chiefs. I suppose this was also to create the illusion (again, to themselves) that it was going to be a fair process. I still don't know if this was standard procedure at all parks. As a group we decided what the core missions were (which seemed to me to be pretty damned clear already from the park's name and legislation). We all got to produce evidence that we were providing the most cost effective way of fulfilling this mission and demonstrate how critical our positions were. Then top management went behind closed doors and virtually ignored all the information that had been provided by program managers and thumbed their noses at mission statements and enabling legislation. But the worst part was that BEFORE the process even began my division chief flat out told several of us that we were not necessary to the parks mission and could be dumped. And sure enough, we're now all gone.

Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot more than a new director or even a new science advisor to set things right. First, the likes of Snyder need to be dealt with at the Regional and park level. Top and mid-level leaders need to man up and get rid of those that can't lead or act against NPS mission and policy. This does not mean shuffling them off to another park or regional office either! The same needs to be done with those who acted in concert with Snyder, which means getting rid of various superintendents who trashed their own parks. As has been said by others, get rid of those who "know the cost of everything and the value of nothing".

Yes, I am now a cynic. After 20 years in the NPS and having watched a few administrations come and go, I firmly believe that NPS rhetoric is simply spin that changes to match the latest presidential appointee and economic climate. At its best, the Parks (and me personally) benefitted from "Professionalization", when that was the big buzzword and the parks just couldn't be managed properly without real professionals and in-house scientists and specialists to advise them on best practices and good science. That lasted just as long as the economic climate was good and we had a president who valued science. Then it became all about privatization and saving a buck. I was downsized and outsourced out of a job that went to the least competent and lowest bidder. Now I watch as folks on here speak gleefully about the latest new deal for the NPS and wonder how long that will last before the next jerk gets in the White House or occupies Interior or IMR director's office. There has been so much destruction done to Parks and people by Core and the NPS's own incompetent leadership that you'll pardon me if I don't celebrate just yet. The organization needs to clean up its own house from within, stop rewarding bad behavior, lousy leadership and toxic personalities.

Personally, I landed on my feet (no thanks to that lame workshop), but know others who did not fare so well. I hope I see some ACTION over the next couple of years to make me a believer in the NPS once again, but frankly do not hold much hope for that. Never mind me- I CHALLENGE the NPS to live up to its principles and earn the trust of the American public!

This news just made my day. Thanks for the present Director Jarvis.

I have had the pleasure of going through not one but three Core Ops exercises in my tenure. Each one was excruciating, time consuming, painful, wasteful, and counterproductive to park mission and goals (how does one manage a cultural site without cultural resource expertise on staff - sorry you can't fill your resource position because it is superfluous to the core mission of the park). The premise we were given on two of the three separate exercises was "imagine coming to a park out of the cold - what is the first thing you need to turn on the lights." There was no mention of adding resource professionals unless the park budget was "fat".
The process was all geared towards drawing down positions and no thought on identifying what was NEEDED to FULLY ACCOMPLISH park mission needs. There was no future planning, no identification of true needs and goals, and in no way shape of form does the Core Ops process identify appropriate pathways to meet desired outcomes based on GMP goals and objectives. Core Ops was a straight jacket and not a tool.

Regardless of motivations, this was a top down driven process with preordained goals (cut 1/3 of your operations or else). When I asked why 1/3 I was told that it was assumed that 1/3 of everything we do was wasted time anyway by the Core Ops instructors so just eliminate your wasted efforts. That was the philosophy we operated under to develop our Core Ops plan!

Our process went like this assign 1/3 of your work as “Core”, 1/3 of your work as “Supporting Core” and 1/3 of your work as “Does not support Core”. If you had three people in a division the work could then be done by two since a third of all work was not supporting Core. So get rid of one position. That was how we derived our results.

It’s a simple strategy that has been massaged and manipulated to develop a process so unbelievably convoluted. It took any creativity out of a manager’s hand and simply did not develop a strategy for opportunities for sustained growth nor did it reflect real needs as envisioned by a park's GMP.

Having been a direct recipient of Mike Snyder's "Reign of Terror," anything that Director Jarvis can do to mitigate Snyder's management and policies in the Intermountain Region will only help the Parks, the Superintendents, and the employees of that Region.

As a long-time employee of the Denver regional office, I offer these personal, unofficial comments: As the saying goes, "there are two sides to every story." The story of core operations and the budget difficulties experienced by parks has many facets, not just two. It is disheartening, therefore, to see comments on this blog scapegoating regional director Mike Snyder for his efforts in helping parks grapple with difficult budget realities. It is easy to forget, now that we have trillion dollar deficits and parks benefitting from stimulus money, that in the not-so-recent past, many parks were struggling with "budget erosion," receiving relatively flat allocations while costs continued to climb. It is not my place to refute the accusations made by others about core operations. But as an individual who has worked for Mr. Snyder for over a dozen years, I am saddened by the tone of some of these posts, both because they do not do justice to Mr. Snyder, whose accomplishments in defense of parks have not been well understood or recognized, and because they seem to ignore the difficulties inherent in addressing any complex problem, not the least of which is encountering resistance and denial. In my years of working with Mr. Snyder, I have known him to be a demanding boss who unceasingly sought to address chronic NPS management problems and issues. That kind of commitment to improving our organization is essential if our park system is to flourish in the 21st century.

“I am Spartacus” aka “I am Core Oped Man Walking”.

The analogy to Spartacus refers to a scene in the movie "Spartacus" starring Kirk Douglas as Spartacus. After the army of former Roman slaves led by Spartacus is defeated in battle by legions of the Roman army, a Roman general stands before the captured surviving members of the slave army and demands that they turn over Spartacus, or else all of the former slaves will be executed. Upon hearing this and not wanting his friends to be executed, Spartacus stands up and says "I am Spartacus." However, the loyalty of his friends is so great that each of them stands forward in succession, shouting "I am Spartacus!" until the shouts dissolve into a cacophony of thousands of former slaves each insisting "I am Spartacus!" Bewildered and still not knowing which of them is Spartacus, but impressed by the loyalty he inspires in his army, the Roman general has all of the slaves crucified in a miles-long display alongside the Appian Way leading back to Rome.

The analogy is this, all of us NPS rank and file in the IMR are the Roman slaves. Snyder is the Roman General. Core Ops is the execution. This blog on the Traveler has opened up a vein and the blood is flowing - as is the pain for those of us Core Oped as we relive the ugly days of Core Op workshops, with lie after lie, and Snyder’s own version of a final solution.

Since Snyder is such a blogger, albeit mostly thru his ghost staff writers, one can assume he is reading some of this blog. And thus I imagine he is as bewildered as the Roman General who couldn’t comprehend the shared agonies of his slaves yet alone the loyalties they feel for each other.

Ed: This comment has been edited. While we certainly realize the decision by Director Jarvis to end "core ops" is being welcomed by many in the Intermountain Region, including more than a few who lost their positions or program funding through it, we'd hope a measure of civility could be maintained in the comments. This is not the forum for personal attacks.

A big thanks to Rick Smith and many others here for saying what so many of us in the intermountain region have been feeling for so long. Snyder has ruined the parks of the intermountain region and brutally demoralized the employees. Dissenting viewpoints were not tolerated so we remained silent to protect our jobs. The question for Director Jarvis is how can the imr parks ever be fixed now that Snyder has broken them so badly.

How can the employees ever trust the senior leadership again? Core Ops was nothing more than smoke and mirrors to rid parks of people and disciplines that Snyder didn't like and to ingratiate himself to the politicals above him for his own personal gain. Compassion was not shown no matter how serious the hardship to the individuals who were “core oped” out of their jobs. All the while Snyder created his own expanded regional office bureaucracy to support these efforts as well as his ongoing pet projects. The travel expenditures by the Core Ops Team were shameful in a time of massive downsizing and job abolishment in the parks. The team’s air of smug self importance was obscene as they rained their IMR brand of hell down upon park after park.

The field saw through their B.S. right from the start but there was no one above them to slow down their destruction. Shame on them all ! Fortunately there were and are a number of superintendents who found ways to protect their staff and slow done the Core Ops train. A heartfelt thanks to them! They know who they are but can't be named here or they might suffer retribution.

Ed: This comment has been edited.

Leaving aside the personal comments about Mike Snyder, the core operations process had and has a purpose. At Karen notes, many parks had overcommitted their budgets. Not due to Mike Snyder's leadership, but due to inexperienced park superintendents hiring more permanent staff than they could afford. Too many inexperienced managers failed to account for pay raises, locality pay, and step increases that make every permanent employee more expensive each year and a budget that does not keep up with that increase. The Core Operations process was designed to save these parks from themselves. It did.

Thank you Jon Jarvis for your wisdom and compassion in ending Core Ops. We agree with you that there are other ways to be accountable and fiscally responsible. Please help us restore the esprit de corps once legend in the National Park Service. Please appoint new senior executives who care about their employees, understand the agency's mission and operate with integrity. Start with the Intermountain Region.

Programs like Core Ops are conceived by people and have real effects on other people. As for taking it personally, yes those who get hurt have every right to be outraged, and those who are responsible for such programs should expect (and deserve) the wrath of those who suffer. Personally, I've had my say and only wish I felt better for it, but it needed saying. Hatchet men need to be reminded now and then of the human consequences of their actions. If someone behaves ruthlessly, why would they expect anything different? If on top of that, the program is viewed as a failure there should be consequences.

Coming at the tail end of the Bush administration, I had hoped to see the actual laying off of people delayed until the next administration took office given the possibility of seeing some budget increases. The NPS is an aging workforce, a couple more years would have seen a lot of attrition anyway. Of course, a lot of those jobs are also critical to real Core Missions, but the reality is that most will be re-described just enough to be filled at a lower pay grade next time around.

Core Ops might have accomplished the goal of reducing staff at certain bloated parks, but if that was the goal why did they not just go after those parks? And where are those “inexperienced superintendents” today who overextended their budgets, and where are those people higher up the command chain who approved those same budgets? My guess is that they are still working in the system.

As for the future, the Budget Cost Projection, NPS scorecards and Business Planning Initiatives sound like similar models that have been around for years, and I can remember going through those kinds of projections years ago. It’s not like inflation, grade increases and the like are a new phenomena! Again, who is responsible for implementing and approving those budgets? Now it’s Jarvis turn to try and good luck to him! I think Leland22 got it right at the start of this discussion. Next time, when these models are applied to the parks, don’t forget what we’re here for and who really does the work, and hold those administrators who fail accountable for their actions.

Dear Anonymous:

As Director Jarvis noted in his memorandum, the step increases, locality pay and pay raise problems ALL were dealt with by ANOTHER program -- the BCP (budget cost projection program). As a park superintendent, I can tell you we were required, through that BCP program, to come to identify all long term costs in manageing our budget. NOT Core Ops.

The cynical thing about the Core Ops program is that it lied that it would be a device to obtain needed funding. It lied that it would be used to tell Congress and the Adminstration where NPS funding shortfalls existed so funds can be restored. And, it was a device to shift the failure of the Bush Administration and the Congress to fund the parks, TO the parks.

In effect, the Bush Administration, the OMB and the House Subcommittee of Appropriations staff were hiding behind the parks to take the hit, and to justify funding levels that made it impossible for parks to do what the laws directed the parks to do.

Internally, it was a cynical program, because it pandered to the complaints -- the taunts actually -- of the whiners: "If you are not going to give me the money, then tell me what to cut! Tell me what NOT to do! EVERYTHING can't be a priority" they would whine. So, rather than emphasizing the creative park leaders who tried to get the money, make the partnerships, or build the creative strategies to do more with less, it pandered to the mediocre to build a constituency against the imaginative and daring.

But the most cynical thing was there was no aggressive effort by the leaders, who foisted off this political fig leaf, to go after the money, or use the result of the Core Ops experience to demand money for the shortfall.

Many parks through Core Ops were cutting key staff essential to the special purpose of that park. For example, eliminating patrols around the boundary at a park vulnerable to poaching. For example, cutting staff archeologists or paleontologist or cultural resource specialist at a park with high value archeological or paleontological or cultural resources. The committee process of the extermination process was like some TV reality show, where a 'majority' could eliminate a key, but outvoted, minority. It tends to take the Regional Director or Director off the hook when key professional services are slashed; instead, finding the funds to keep parks professional should be a responsibility of leadership.

When a park then came up with the slimmer budget, the Washington Office and the Congress had a ready-made excuse for NOT addressing the shortfall: "after all, the PARK said it could do without this money!" This fact, the fact that no aggressive effort was made to get the money, is the demonstration that at heart this program had no interest in helping parks, but slashing park budgets without political consequence.

Instead, park superintendents need to learn to effectively articulate for the real needs and get the funding, while at the same time increasing efficiencies each year and eliminating things that do not work or or not part of the Mission. But Core Ops? It was cutting the Mission.

-- I agree with Anonymous that it would be a good idea not to gratuitously attack Regional Director Mike Snyder, in the way some of these posts have.

Snyder was being fully pushed from Washington by the Director, the Associate Director for Development, by the Department of the Interior and -- ESPECIALLY -- by highly questionable behaviour by the OMB Examiner.

-- Also, I would mention that, perhaps insensitively but without full malice, the use by the Anonymous of Dec 6th of the term: "some gal with the job of softening the terrain" -- is just wrong.

Not only is it sexist, but -- if the woman he cites is the one I think she is, this woman is an experienced park ranger, deputy superintendent and superintendent. She is not "some gal."

I believe she, like many including perhaps even Hal Grovert, above, tried to do her conscientious best as directed in helping parks cuts when she had no responsibility for the shortfalls, through a program she was not responsible for creating. I believe most park rangers, incorrectly, think it is not their job to help find the money, but to carry out their orders with the belief their superiors are in Good Faith.

Well, the horrid little secret is that OMB, the Department, the Director and the House appropriations subcommittee were NOT of good faith.

This is a big break with tradition, because Rangers feel there is a compact with Washington: I do my job, you do yours. It is a break with tradition because historically, both Republicans and Democrats supported the parks. All that started to change under the Reagan Administration by James Watt as Secretary of the Interior and the belief that "government is the problem." Instead of the good will to solve the problems of ineffective or inefficient programs, suddenly the "leaders" were trying to undermine the love Americans had for the National Parks and the park rangers.

Most people in the field do not know how to deal with this.

Director Jarvis seems to know how to deal with this. In his first message he pledged to get rid of "accountability" programs that undermined park operations rather than improved the quality of services. Now, in this memorandum, Director Jarvis eliminated ONE of the most egregious of these "accountability" programs WITHOUT the indignity of blaming this person or that for a nationwide problem of governance under the Bush Administration.

I really questioned the relationship between the intent of CORE OPS and how it was implemented. Case in point, how in the world would anyone believe that you could justify removing 2 of the 3 paleontologists from Dinosaur National Monument? It would seem that paleontology is one of the Core Missions of the park and likely one of the primary reason the public drives to this remote national treasure.

What happened to the concept of "Science Based Decision Making"? Some managers are threatened by science and scientists.

Hopefully the money saved by the extinction of Core Ops - will pave the way to restore otherwise essential postiions at Dinosaur National Monument. Unfortunately, the National Park Service will need to spend significant dollars to clean up the Core Ops fiasco.

Someone should ask Mike Snyder to resign he has IMPAIRED the agency.

Being new to the NPS (and proud to be so) and not working in a park, my comments are very qualified. However, I don't know whether Core Operations Analysis, the NPS Scorecard or magic pixie dust will do the trick, but parks and regions need to do more to plan for operations during economic times like those our nation finds itself currently mired in. ARRA money notwithstanding (and the clock is ticking on that $) we all need to work to make park funding as important to those who hold our purse strings as it is to all of us. Coming to the Service from a Congressional office I can tell you we and our allies have successfully beat our maintenence backlog forcefully enough into the consciousness of members of Congress that that message is all most of them remember about our needs when budgets are developed. While those needs are also very important to the long-term well being of parks, it seems to me service-wide need tools to strategically plan all operations beyond the pending fiscal year are lacking. The key to future sustainable NPS operations seems to me to be planning for long-term fiscal sustainability (and the asscoiated projections) as opposed to relying on Congress to reward us with below needed levels of one year funding. But, greater minds than mine will need to decide if those tools are needed and what form they might take.

One of the greatest beauties of America is we can speak our minds freely. I am grateful to Kurt and the Traveler for providing a forum for us to do so no matter what we may think about the topic of Core Operations. With that in mind, I want to say as a long time NPS employee who has worked in different regions and parks, no other central office initiative will go down as big of a disaster, as much of a waste of taxpayer money and as specifically and brutally cruel to NPS employees as Mike Snyder's Core Operations. The current IMR regional office employees who are choosing to comment on this blog by name, for the most part have never worked in a national park, never been responsible for a park budget and were not targeted by the region for job abolishment under Core Ops. In fact, they make up some of the inner circle of the regional director - so their perspective is very different than that of a field employee. I also would like to emphasize that we in the field well understand fiscal responsibility, budget cost projections and the current imperative of tight fiscal constraints for the welfare of our entire country. We certainly understand the scrutiny under which national parks operate from Congress, the Department, partners, interest groups, media and most importantly the American Public. The regional folks who are suggesting by their comments that field employees don’t seem to understand the important elements of budgeting should spend a year working in a park and carrying out Core Op job abolishments of long time NPS employees, regionally directed VSIP & VERA personnel actions, among all the other 24/7 responsibilities we carry every day in running America’s 392 Best Ideas. Perhaps the necessary budget trimming and tighter fiscal responsibility should be exercised in the regional office before cutting mission critical posts in the parks.

I apologize to anyone who may have taken offense by my use of the term, "some gal". It was insensitive. She is probably a nice person just placed in a bad position.

To Rick Smith.

FYI according to information that is publicaly available here (http://php.app.com/fed_employees/search.php) Mr. Snyder did NOT receive any award monies in 2008.

Name Agency State/Country County Station Title Plan/
Grade Adj. Base
Salary FY 08
Award
SNYDER, MICHAEL D. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Colorado Jefferson County LAKEWOOD PARK RANGER ES 00 $166,293 $0

Kudos to Rick Smith for his comments. I think that there was a huge disconnect between the IMR leadership in Denver and the implementation of Core Ops as it might have been applied to support the mission of the NPS. My experiences with the process indicated that it was not at all mission-centric, nor did it appear that those who were leading the charge necessarily grasped the central concepts of the NPS mission. The process was primarily operationally focused. As an example, during one of our Core Ops meetings, members of the team charged us with the notion that we needed to think about theoretically closing the park down and identifying critical positions based upon reopening. We untimately lost 4 permenant archeologist positions in parks that were largely focused on archeological resources. But as one comment stated earlier, the organizational charts that resulted were often the result of later discussions and intrigue with regional leadership, rather than the result of the inclusive Core Ops efforts.

I also perceived that those who were forcing the process were often lacking the real commitment to the parks (resources and people) that is deeply felt by so many of the employees of those parks. I believe that this factor alone accounts for much of torment that this ill-fated process has caused.

But another failure of this IMR Regional leadership has been the in the selection of Superintendent positions. Certainly, good selections have been made. However, some of the new Superintendents lack a serious commitment to NPS ideals and as a result fail to recognize the core mission themselves. At least one Superintendent in northern Arizona exemplifies this failure and in many ways reflects the mentality of the Regional Director who made the selection. Without changes, these selections can lead to potential long term harm to IMR parks.

In any case, it is very dangerous when one person believes he/she has the best answers to complex issues, and even more dangerous when they are given the power to institute flawed concepts on such a large scale in such important areas as National Parks and Monuments. The arrogance of that is just unbelievable.

You can be assured that the appalling comments on this page will become an issue in discussing parks budgets. The arrogance of thinking the parks are above budgeting when people are struggling too pay home heating, health care, gas and other bills is appalling. The comments on this page show that outside forces are likely to have to dictate budgets if the NPS is not willing to manage its own shop. Past budgeting methods did not prioritize. Comments such as these, and Director Jarvis attack are likely to endanger funding for the centennial projects. Think farther than in front of your nose. Unbelievable arrogance.

"The Traveler has asked the Intermountain Regional office for reports assessing the impact of the core ops process, and for Regional Director Snyder's reaction to the directive."

Well? Did we hear anything from Regional Director Snyder?

Still waiting, Rick

Wow - a few IMR regional office commenters don't seem to get it. Parks most certainly do understand the gravity of the budget situation and certainly know that times will be getting even tougher for all Americans and for all non defense related federal agencies. Director Jarvis is NOT attacking but rather leading! Most employees are excited by his inspired leadership. IMR commenters- please stop insulting us in the parks by postulating we don't understand budgets or BCPs or obligation rates or any of the important components of our very serious fiscal responsibilities.

The CORE OPS was a Titanic from its inception.

Great discourse here on the Traveler. Thanks to all who have shared. I've worked with Rick Smith and he is absolutely on the mark with his comments - kudos Rick!

"The arrogance of thinking the parks are above budgeting when people are struggling too pay home heating, health care, gas and other bills is appalling."

Typical straw man argument. The parks are acutely aware of the need to manage budgets carefully. Acknowledging that "Core Ops" was an abysmal way to go about the process does not negate that reality.

Bill Wade
Chair, Executive Council
Coalition of National Park Service Retirees

Let's be clear here. From everything I know, Core Operations was invented by Mike Snyder and was done so he could ingratiate himself to the then Director, but more importantly, to the DOI - especially then Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett. He got buy-in from the Director which had the effect of having the process foisted off on the other regions, but clearly a number of the other regions (including Jarvis in the Pacific West Region) didn't buy it lock, stock and barrel and dragged their feet in implementing it; so the consequences were felt far less in the rest of the NPS than was the case in the Intermountain Region. It seems clear that Mike Snyder has to bear the responsibility for the damage.

It seems clear that this is the first of other "corrections to the System" that Jarvis intends to initiate. I am attending the "Ranger Rendezvous" - conference of the Association of NP Rangers here in Gettysburg. Jarvis spoke to the attendees yesterday morning, and one of the things he mentioned that he (and the DOI) intend to work on immediately (he's evidently already appointed someone to lead this effort and perhaps has put out guidance to the regions on how he intends to proceed) is to reduce the "excessive reporting requirements" in the NPS. Core Ops was a terribly flawed reporting requirement, and there are other ones either flawed or useless out there. We wish Jarvis huge success in getting a handle on this as he moves ahead with other things needing correction from the mess he inherited.

I surmise that a major reorganization of the leadership of the Intermountain Regional Office of the NPS will become a Jarvis action item.

Yes, superintendents do fail. It is no secret that the NPS does not have a management succession or leadership development program. Superintendents are plucked from wherever they may come from. Case in point, the new GS-15 superintendent of Boston NHP is coming from the US Forest Service. No NPS or park experience. It's hard to blame managers who are put into postions without training or experience.

It is a bit maddening to see that a few people in the IM Regional Office don’t seem to grasp the idea that park staffs and/or management deal with the complete gamut of managing parks everyday, including park budgets. It is also frustrating to see that somehow these regional staff members have concluded (in some cases perhaps legitimately) that parks were incapable of, or not concerned with, managing budgets, but then again we were all well aware of this attitude. It seems that as Core Ops developed in IMR, this feeling that the park staffs were adversaries instead of colleagues striving to deal with fiscal problems became more and more apparent. It is also clear that the process was clearly often tainted with vindictiveness instead of being an objective examination of park needs.

Ironically, if we could look at all of the fiscal costs associated with this effort including regional and park staff time and travel, I’m quite certain we would find that hundreds of thousands of dollars (perhaps more) in IMR funds were expended on never-completed (and completed) Core Ops Plans and BCPs across the region, not to mention Core Ops exercises that were repeated. Beyond this, the human cost in terms of lost positions vital to park missions and the animosity that his program has generated is incalculable. The tragedy is that most of this effort did not result in positive outcomes for parks.

While it is maddening to see some of the comments, it is also understandable. After spending many years with the NPS and seeing huge planning efforts such as GMPs, RMPs, CIPs, BCPs, and Core Ops involving hundreds of hours of time by many people, often quickly discarded, I can understand the feeling of ownership in the Core Ops process and all the effort that went into it at the regional level. It is painful for some to see so much effort cast aside. But I would encourage our colleagues in IMR office to use that energy to work collaboratively with new leadership and parks to help confront looming fiscal crises that we are all well aware of.

I wish the best for Mr. Jarvis as he strives to deal with all the issues on his very large plate.

Core operations was designed against the backdrop of the A-76 initiative which was championed by Vice President Al Gore under the Clinton Administration, but began in the prior administration and continued through the Bush Administration. A-76 was an effort to look at privatizing many of the functions of government, and much of its attraction came from the argument that government agencies were bloated and inefficient. The NPS was hit hard by two events that contributed to this perception: The Delaware Water Gap comfort station story which gained national attention for wasteful spending, and the Sperry Chalet story which gained attention for much the same reason. Whether or not these two projects deserved their characterization in the national media, they were taken by Congress, and by our Congressional appropriators, as examples that the NPS was not managing its money wisely, and that its budget process was not transparent or accountable.

Core Operations was an effort to provide that accountability and transparency. It had nothing to do with any other political considerations. At the time Core Operations was developed, most IMR parks were projected to be mired in red ink based on the budget cost projection module. In addition, most IMR parks had very little budget flexibility to address a crisis, with fixed costs eating up as much as 100 percent of park ONPS base accounts. Core operations was designed to allow each individual park, each program, and the regional office, to look at their operations and prioritize those operations so that they could make budget cuts thoughtfully and strategically – not ad hoc. In doing so, budget decisions would be squarely in the hands of managers, not dictated by circumstance. It was also designed to ensure that, if parks and programs could not meet their basic core needs as identified by the process, they would have a transparent and credible process on which to base their request for an increase in funds.

The process of Core Operations was not easy. No question about it. No hard look at budget priorities ever is. But it was a solid, straightforward attempt to give the parks and programs in the region the tools to plan strategically for their future at a time of great budgetary uncertainty.

One of the great joys of working for the NPS is that we share a remarkable mission. We are all dedicated to that mission, whether we are in the parks, running programs, in the regional offices, or in the Washington office. Until this debate on Core Operations, I truly thought that we all believed that each of us was dedicated to that mission. We may have disagreed about how to carry it out, but we knew that we were all equally deeply committed to it. Are those who have posted on this web page, questioning the motives or intent of others, really so certain that they have a corner on how to carry out that mission? Have we lost the graciousness and generosity of spirit seemed to be the hallmark of wearing the flat hat?

Really? Only people from inside the NPS are qualified as managers of park units? It's hard to believe that there are not many capable and intelligent folks out there who can come in, study and understand the mission and goals of the NPS, and make significant contributions to the agency. Unless we are willing to allow outside talent and perspectives in, we run the risk of all insular and self centered organizations -- failure of creativity, lack of fresh thinking and perspectives, and eventual obsolescence.

I've worked for the NPS for 21 years and we've seen these initiatives come and go, usually at a large cost to the NPS and the individual parks themselves without a lot of tangible benefits to the NPS employees , operations, or the public. Core Ops was a particularly bad one! The IMR pushed forward on this as if it were the saving grace for the NPS and the region was not alone in zealousness! A handful of park Superintendents signed on right away to implement this without exercising prudent judgement as to the benefits of this program. From my perspective, these managers (at the region and at the park level) were anxious to prove their loyalty to the current (now past) administration and recklessly abandoned their responsibility to the NPS mission as stated in the Organic Act. In the past, I felt that our Directors were not cut from the same cloth as other agency managers. They stood up for what was right and were driven by the mission, not the partisan politics of the current administration. This was not evident during the Bush Administration.

In the 90's, there was a strong push to professionalize many of the job series in the NPS in an effort to attract and retain valuable individuals to further the mission of the NPS. Through Core Ops, we saw a lot of that effort wiped away in an effort to reduce budgets through downsizing, downgrading, and elimination of key positions. There is no merit given to the Superintendent who eliminates positions or down grades or converts them to seasonal only in an effort to improve the bottom line - that's not even what Core Ops was purported to be yet that is exactly how my former Superintendent did it and with ZERO transparency - he just wanted to cozy up to Mike. These employees who were discarded, downsized, down graded and whose jobs were converted to seasonal without benefits are people who deserve respect and appropriate pay. How many of these Superintendents actually considered downsizing or downgrading themselves in their effort to demonstrate a good bottom line to the Regional Director???

Core Ops was like a scud missile to employee morale and I think any one who has worked in a park can attest to the fact that a good morale and working relationship between divisions is one of the best ways to improve efficiency and save dollars yet this process stabbed at the heart of morale and often by managers who seemed to not care in the least about the welfare of the persons who were targeted by it. I watched morale in my park go from one of the highest I had ever been a part of to the lowest ever - nice work new SW Utah Park Superintendent.

Jarvis is doing what should have been done 8 years ago - standing up for the mission, science, and the employees who make this the greatest agency in the government!

"One of the great joys of working for the NPS is that we share a remarkable mission. We are all dedicated to that mission, whether we are in the parks, running programs, in the regional offices, or in the Washington office. Until this debate on Core Operations, I truly thought that we all believed that each of us was dedicated to that mission. We may have disagreed about how to carry it out, but we knew that we were all equally deeply committed to it. Are those who have posted on this web page, questioning the motives or intent of others, really so certain that they have a corner on how to carry out that mission? Have we lost the graciousness and generosity of spirit seemed to be the hallmark of wearing the flat hat?"

Can't speak for everyone posting here, but I certainly don't think that most of us feel that we have a corner on how to carry out the mission. I do think that Mr. Snyder and his minions such as Tony Schetzle felt that THEY had a corner on defining the mission, carrying out the mission, and that other opinions from park staff were simply either not allowed or ridiculed. The graciousness and generosity were removed, not by those posting their opinions on this web page, but by the the violation of trust and respect that was so clearly portrayed by those implementing the "reign of terror" as more than one person has described this debacle. The IMR will need new leadership before we can begin to heal these wounds.

This is to "Anonymous of December 9th who speaks of generocity of spirt and A76":

It is preposterous to think of either A76 or Core Ops as being "committed to the Mission," "thoughtful," "strategic" and especially, as reflecting generocity of spirit or the spirt of the National Park Service.

Core Ops and A76 both arose from a political strategy of pitting the parks and the programs and the people of the NPS against each other. It worked. It was a race to the bottom. The smallest mindedness predominated. "Strategic?" Referring to core ops as 'strategic' is the most ridiculous of all. There was nothing strategic about it. Its purpose was to slash the bone of the National Park System and programs and to render the NPS a less effective, less admirable agency.

Charging a lack of transparency for carefully selected and leaked targets such as the Delaware Water Gap outhouse or Sperry was just a means to remove necessary management discretion in program management. When critical needs -- such as an environmental review for a pending court case or unusual engineering solutions to mitigate potential impairment of park resources -- often demanded by Congress or the courts intervened, and there was no line item to pay for the item, the professional offices of the NPS had to take on those projects in addition to the line item projects without waiting for additional appropriations. This kind of flexibility is necessary for effective management, & operates within existing authorizations and legislation. There is no need for congress to micromanage at this level, and other agencies with FAR larger budgets with LESS exacting Mission-related restrictions, have far MORE discretion in budget mangement. The packaging and promotion of many of these leaks of supposed unaccountability came from a disgruntled old dinosaur and regional manager from that part of the country trying to hang on to his preeminence. This is where the breakdown in 'graciousness' started showing itself in the successful right-wing tactic to turn one part of the NPS against another. Those who went for the bait had no strategy: nothing they were doing would enhance the programs or the funding needed by the NPS.

You say "Congress" demanded this. Interesting. Few in congress were engaged in this. It was hardly "Congress." It was mostly a staff-driven crusade by the most self-regarding, unelected staffers who felt senior park leaders with profound experience and judgement did not pander enough to these unelected staffers. The least politically sophisticated advocates of Core Ops and similar programs keep saying "Congress" asked for it, when no real congressional mandate was established, and the NPS 'leadership' never attempted to make a better case of better solution for the sake of the public interest. At first, Congressman Regula tried to stand outside of the whole orchestrated thing, until he too got dragged into it, and ended up endorsing and declaring the whole thing a victory for 'accountability.' When Director Stanton said that he personally would review each project at the Washington level, Mr. Regula even warned him that would be a waste of Washington's time and the Director's time, but the congressional staff had gotten to OMB and departmental staff and the damage was done. Thus began this incredibly expensive entirely wasteful series of top-down inquisitions, none of which had ANY strategy to them.

One real strategy would have been to forcefully explain why the funds and flexibility are needed, and the consequences of letting such staff-driven micromanagement go on. The NPS 'leadership,' instead of surrendering to the propaganda by adocating for harmful cuts, could have stood up and fight as NPS leaders had in the past. Can you imagine George Hartzog permitting this lack of management flexibility. Can you imagine him being intimadated by some dottering dinosaur? But they were intimidated, and the Bush administration hired the dinosaur's hatchet-person as Director of the NPS.

This could have been fought. NPS could have gone after the attacks. Afterall, this was not like Eisenhower standing up to Senator Joe McCarthy in the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Instead, every regional director -- non-political jobs -- was removed during the Bush Administration. Everyone did not roll over to Core ops, but this was no time for what used to be the standard courage of the NPS.

The most ridiculous charge is to say Core Ops would be the basis for funding increases. Just look at the NPS budgets during the time. The NPS asked for less money for park operations increases during this time than only the cost of the 'accountability' programs like Core Ops, maintenance consolidations and GPRA. The NPS even ACCEPTED OMB's proposal that meant the NPS COULD NOT EVEN ASK FOR FUNDING RESTORATION for activities stripped by cost of living increases or across-the-board cuts. Wake up! It did not MATTER what justification you had, if you were asking to restore a cut activity. Once cut, it was against the "rules" to request that funding to be restored. If there was any amount of real insight among tha advocates of this program, they were cynical and culpable. The rest were too inexperienced or too easily led to know any better.

If you had put the same amount of effort that went into Core ops and the really stupid way the NPS implemented GPRA, into strategies to build support among the American people -- or even just managing the parks -- the NPS would be way ahead today.

People are angry, not gracious, because of the stupidity and viciousness of this diversion of the spirit and purpose of the National Park Service.

Not to appear ungracious or malicious but you have an extremely naïve opinion on the implementation of Core Ops. I have gone through three of them in my tenure and each one was executed in an arbitrary way. In all three cases we were told what our outcomes would be regardless of analysis. IN each instance the park tried to develop its own priorities with varying success but the outcomes and final reports were all dramatically different than what the park originally wanted. When the superintendent was asked the response was always “Denver didn’t like it.”

A classic example is what happened in the Vanishing Treasures Program – a grass roots program developed by and run by parks in the IMR to deal with an ageing preservation work force, priceless prehistoric architectural sites needing emergency treatment, and a lack of resource professionals to deal with the boarder issues. The VT Program was a grass roots organization run by the parks in the IMR – not through the IMR office. From 1999 – 2004 the VT program successfully got Clinton and Bush administrations to fund the program to the tune of several million dollars and added over 62 resource professionals and craftspeople to the ranks. The program manager was base funded out of the FLAG areas. In 2004 the VT Program was Core Oped. The base funded program manager positions was pulled from FLAG (ONPS dollars removed) and reinstated in the IMR. Funding for positions dried up 100% (6 to 7 positions were getting funded in the old system) and now the program struggles for its very existence to dole out a few project dollars.

The program was viable and successful when run by the parks but dried up to nothing as soon as it was Core Oped and transferred to the IMR. Snyder had a personal history with the program manager and made this move as vindictive as possible. The program manager was removed from his job and the pulled funding was given to an IMR Curator was in turn losing her operations to Core Ops. See a theme…

So don’t tell me that Core Ops was a well thought out tool to financial sustainability. It may have had its origins like that but it was used vindictively and destroyed successful parks and programs and actually made them less efficient and more costly while reducing benefits to visitors and resources.

Your naïveté is too much to bear. I’m sorry.

Dear NPS Colleagues and NPT Friends,
I am an employee who lost my job as a part of Core Operations in an IMR park.
I was forced to move in order to stay employed. The move has caused me and my family immeasurable hardship. Reading this long series of comments is both cathartic but intensely painful as well. I have reeled from the highs of seeing our story finally told - to the depths of despair at reliving our shared experiences through the posts here. I suspect that many of you can relate to this mix of feelings. After all, we are part of the same family – the National Park Service Family.
I deeply appreciate Kurt giving all of us a forum to have a voice for we have not had one in nearly four years in the IMR. That is changing now with the turn of the Administration and a new skilled and compassionate Director. I suggest that we consider ending the cyber blood letting for the good of the agency we love so much. Our story has been told, our voices heard and the winds of change are blowing.
Let's re-commit ourselves to our agency's noble mission and in the spirit of Horace Albright's wise dictate.
“Do not let the service become just another Government bureau; keep it youthful, vigorous, clean and strong.”

Well put, Anonymous! I hear you and completely understand where you are coming from and what you are feeling. I too have moved on, but not without a few scars and a case of PTSD; but this has been helpful and most interesting, especially in confirming from good sources what many of us had always known by facts and in our guts to be the case.

I like the hopeful tone in the voices of those who remain behind, but it's almost too euphoric and giddy, the sound of someone who just missed a bullet. I'd advise you not to get too comfy and let your guards down too far. Use this time to shore up the foundations again; and don't forget the next election is only 3 years away! Part of me wishes I was still onboard- have a good ride!

So- what's next? Please tell me the [Government Performance and Results Act] (GPRA) is the next to fall! That would make my day!

Spot on -sadly PTSD is exactly what so many of us have been silently struggling with who were Core Oped.
I received this diagnosis from my physician two years ago. I didn't pursue it thru work channels as I figured what was the point. I just had to deal with it on my own and heal myself as best I could. But it is ironic to think about the IMR regional director's demanding performance requirement of zero employee on the job injuries, accidents and illnesses and the penalizing assessments IMR parks pay to the IMR region every time a park has a "reportable" accident, injury and occupational triggered illness. It would be staggering to calculate how many former and present IMR employees who were core oped share this wrenching job triggered PTSD reality. Hopefully there will be some accountability for the incalculable human damage.

A career NPS ranger friend of mine has been reading this thread of posts and has also heard lots of offline talk about how the NPS will soon change for the better. Noticing the abundance of "Anonymous" postings above from present and former NPS colleagues, here is what was sent to me:

"When we no longer feel intimidated to use our names when we submit comments, I'll know that change within the NPS is real."

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

In the midst of the debate about how much money has been spent in different ways and at different levels of the Park Service, it's interesting to go to http://php.app.com/fed_employees/search.php and just compare some numbers.

For instance, if you look at the salaries of all the employees of the Intermountain Regional Office and the Denver Service Center, it shows in fiscal year 2008 there were 543 employees .......and 24% earned more than $100,000 and 64% earned more than $75,000.

If you combine the numbers for Mesa Verde National Park and Yosemite National Park---one of our typical medium-sized parks and one of our larger parks---you end up with 993 employees....and of these only 1.5 % earned more than $100,000 and 6% earned more than $75,000. (Based on the web site's statistics: at Mesa Verde NP one person earned over $100,000 and 9 others earned between $75,000 and $100,000; and at Yosemite NP there were 819 employees with 14 earning over $100,000 and 36 earning between $75,000 and $100,000.)

These numbers include all employees---full time permanent and summer seasonals. If we try to eliminate the seasonal employees, then Mesa Verde NP had approximately 60 year-round employees and Yosemite NP had approximately 400. That results in a combined full time staff in the two parks of 460 people with 3% earning over $100,000 and 13% earning over $75,000.

Statistics like these obviously raise questions: How many people really are necessary to support our parks and to support the mission of the Park Service? And how much should they be paid?

Perhaps as Director Jarvis and others begin to look carefully at budgets, at the possibility of future budget restraints and challenges, and at where to devote time, money, and energy in the next decade, they should begin to ask: do we need so many people at the middle management levels of the Park Service? Do we need so many disproportionately well paid people? And what regional services really are necessary, and how much should be spent for those services in comparison to the programs, preservation activities and visitor services that are necessary in our parks?

To Anonymous on Dec 10, 2009.
You wrote "In 2004 the VT Program was Core Oped. The base funded program manager positions was pulled from FLAG (ONPS dollars removed) and reinstated in the IMR."

The ONPS funds were not removed. FLAG kept the funds but the superintendent chose not to spend on VT.

I don't disagree that individuals from outside the NPS can make good park managers however, we have a process by which those individuals can learn over time how to become managers of the resources we hold in trust for the people we serve. That process is called experience. I would not want an auto mechanic, even if he was a capable, highly intelligent person, performing surgery on me. He must learn about the human body and the techniques and technologies that will lead to becomming a capable surgeon. Like the surgeon. a park manager, must learn the laws that govern parks and resources and techniques for leadership and program management within the Park Service culture. This is gained by experience not jumping headlong into park management from a position at the YMCA in North Carolina, for example (Florissant several years ago). At times I am horrified by the NPS hiring practices especially for superintendents and as a taxpayer I am outraged by some of the choices that are made when filling superintendent positions. From personal experience in the Intermountain Region, the Directorate needs a shakeup. Good luck John Jarvis!

Traveler..,

While the memo from Director Jarvis to the Regional Directors seemed clear in that it “brings an end to Core Operations Analyses for the parks and programs in your region,” it evidently did not make it to Omaha. A number of parks in the Midwest have been informed Core-Ops that were previously planned will go forth, including several that have yet to have dates scheduled.

Am I alone in hoping that this is not how the Director plans ‘to improve the justification our budgets and improve management of our financial resources”

From the people I spoken with, it appears to be business as usual.