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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.


Another round of CORE OPS Letters were just distributed yesterday, December 15, in continuation with the CORE OPS Plan, for Glen Canyon NRA. Some have described the IMR (Inter-Mountain Regional) and the GLCA hand picked pocket men, as Odessa, (The Organization of Old Nazi Hold-0uts). They appear to be continuing with their CORE-OPS plans in spite of Director Jarvis's letter and comments. They are hiring brand new positions at the same time they are trying to abolish positions under the CORE OPS Plan? The Superintendent has just hired an "Assistant Superintendent, GS-13", non-competively, that is. They have a Deputy Superintendent (GS-14) already? The person will be supervisied by the Superintendent, however? And a GS-12 Administrative Assistant for the Superintendent (Planner) as well? Many other goofy and strange things going on there as well I hear?


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.

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!

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.

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 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?

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

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.

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!

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