Mike Snyder, Intermountain Regional Director for the National Park Service, Opts for Retirement

Mike Snyder, the Intermountain regional director for the National Park Service, has decided to retire rather than take a reassignment. NPS photo.

Mike Snyder, the Intermountain regional director for the National Park Service who became a controversial figure over his "core ops" approach to budgeting, has decided to retire rather than take a reassignment.

Mr. Snyder announced his plans in a blog posted on the Park Service's intranet.

Mike Snyder's Blog: So long IMR family: I will leave you with a smile

On Monday of this week I traveled to Phoenix for a meeting on the Glen Canyon Dam and how its management affects the Grand Canyon. When I checked into my hotel, there was a fax waiting for me at the front desk. The fax was from the Director, telling me that I was being reassigned, effective in 15 days, to a compliance job in the Denver Service Center.

As you all know, being in the Senior Executive Service means that you can be reassigned at any time. It is something that all of us in that position understand. After the job here as Regional Director, though, I don’t think any other job can measure up in terms of the people you get to work with, the issues that engage you, and the places you get to go. So, I have decided to retire. My retirement date is March 2.

Laura Joss will be the acting Regional Director effective February 17. I know that all of you will work closely with her, support her, and keep carrying on the good work you are doing on behalf of the parks and the NPS mission.

A while back I wrote a blog in which I began with the line “So much of being successful depends on our initial approach and attitude” and ended it with “…every change in life requires a change in thinking.” I will apply that simple logic to the change that I am about to make. This is a new beginning and I am looking forward to all that lies ahead.

I want all of you to know how proud I am of the work you have accomplished for the National Park Service, and how much I enjoyed working with you. We have been through a lot together, and I have always been impressed by the professionalism, dedication and creativity of the people in this region.

As I look back on a long career with the NPS, I feel blessed to have been part of carrying out our mission and to have been able to work with so many talented people. I leave here with a smile, happy to have had such challenging and fulfilling work. Please take care of yourselves, and think first of the safety of your colleagues and friends. I hope our paths will cross again.


Comments

Hello:
I don't know whether or not Mr. Snyder "deserved" to be reassigned; it is the Director's prerogative. However, I don't think that sending a fax to a hotel is an appropriate way for a manager to notify an employee of a reassignment.
Cheers,
M

P.S. This is assuming (I know what they say) that Mr. Snyder is completely forthright in his blog.


Well, I barely know Mr. Snyder, but it certainly lacks class, and seems pretty maudlin besides, to even include that paragraph about the FAX.

Your public statements when you leave public service are expected to have more grace. You should not use such statements to get even. Future employers will notice such things.

Folks, we're getting a few comments that go over the line, and that's why they're not showing up. Let's try to keep a measure of civility or two.

Note: Involuntary reassignments are not limited to SES. GS employees may also be involuntarily reassigned so long as the new position is at the same grade level and the employee is qualified to do the work. The affected employee has one of two choices; resign or accept the new assignment.

Live by the sword - die by the sword, aka "directed reassignment"
Lo how many of us in IMR have received those orders, "directed reassignment" despite our lowly GS non SES status and with far more hardship endured than Snyder now faces. SES retirement seems a pretty sweet deal.

Music may best describe how we all are feeling with the news, classless as it was in its' delivery.
"Joy to the World" (from Three Dog Night). "Rejoice and Be Glad" "Oh Happy Day"
"Celebrate, Celebrate, Dance to the Music"... "Raise your voices, Lift your Hearts"
and the list goes on..... across the miles the joy is zinging all around cybersapce.
" So go tell it on the mountain" and "Dance the night away" !

I suppose an appropriate question, as Mr. Snyder's career comes to a halt, is - does anyone have a full list of the careers that came to an early halt as a result of Mr. Snyder's alledged management efforts? And will an effort be made to right the wrongs?

I don't know any of the players in this myself, other than through Traveler, however there has certainly been enough smoke from many sources to recognise that there must have been a fire, and the faxed reassignment appears to be a fairly blunt punctuation point to that.

IM Regional Director, Mike Snyder is the epitome of the contemporary NPS manager: no credible field training or experience, weak leadership skills, managed with the power of position (command influence), rather than the strength of his ideas, ethics and honorable vision. Everything was political, rarely was he motivated by mission, science, tradition, history and agency legacy...

Mr. Snyder, as well as his predecessor, Ms. Karen Wade was responsible for a massive change in the IMR & NPS leadership culture, spirit and operational effectiveness. They ruined the careers of numbers career employees, while pursuing an ideological and marginally competent management agenda. I saw the unique NPS lifestyle greatly erode under their tenures.

I watched dozens of career Superintendents forced into retirement during their time at the helm. I watched how these seasoned leaders would be replaced with individuals who were marginal in experience and high in supervisory conformity. These leadership personnel changes were responsible for the greatest leadership destabilzation witnessed in my long career. These practices were evidence of extremely poor leadership ability, I am very critical of Mr. Snyder's agenda and leadership transitions.

Ironically, Mr. Snyder is getting a taste of his own medicine. The NPS Director is using the same poor NPS supervisory leadership transition techniques on Mr. Snyder, that Mr. Snyder used on many of his superintendents. This case is illuminating, and I must say, not reassuring in regards to Director Jarvis. Mr. Snyder was not a good RD, but to end a career by FAX is another example of what is wrong with NPS leadership. It is weak, unethical and fosters a work environment of distrust.

NPS employees have tolerated these heavy-handed personnel actions for a long time, and it has to stop. Otherwise, if tolerated, you are looking at your own future. How many times have we seen the NPS run over employees and managers they didn't like, managers who took a stand for resource values, or mission driven whistle blowers. It is amazing what NPS management is able to get away with.

Look at how NPS management routinely sweeps poor conduct issues under the rug for those favored in the "Superintendents Club," like the recent case in Gettysburg. It is appalling how far the NPS has fallen in such a short time and Mr. Snyder is a poster child for this era of poor NPS leadership, management and supervision.

The NPS has to get serious about recapturing the proud traditions of this great agency. We all see it slipping away, and it will be lost if we don't take some bold moves to improve the culture and practice of NPS leadership.

Managing the IMR is no easy task. Very few positions in government work deal with the wide range of issues that this position must oversee. In those instances where Mr. Snyder acted with real concern for the resources, people. and issues he was entrusted with, he met with some real success.

However, had he acted throughout his tenure in a manner consistent with the tone of his essay on cynicism published earlier this week and with the same levels of professed concern for people and doing the right thing, I think a much different situation would exist.

The fiscal realities that Core Ops brought to the forefront are relevant. I don't think many park managers would disagree that something needed to be done about the chronic financial issues faced by the agency. Unfortunately, the manner in which it was fielded and applied led to chaos. Mr. Snyder's claims that he was a reluctant servant of the previous administrations will stand in contrast to the tone and vigor with which he rolled out the program. One need only look at his a member of his management team's reinstatement to a position previously eliminated by Core Ops to see the manner in which this program was handled.

Senior Management will always face criticism for the hard decisions they are forced to make. It has been my experience that this IMR Directorship would make decisions based more on personality and power than anything else. Mr. Snyder had every opportunity to produce documentation that could rebuff the criticism he faced, but he chose not to. This is telling.

I do wish him well in whatever new challenges he faces. I hope he takes with him lessons learned from his tenure and the way it ultimately ended. I can't help but shake my head when reading his account of the re-assignment notification. It was well known prior to this event that Mr. Snyder was facing re-assignment and I doubt seriously this is the first he heard of it. Mentioning this detail is a blatant attempt to erode the clout of the director and is truly sad.
Hopefully, Mr. Snyders experience in helping people through difficult and unwanted change will serve him well.

I am truly hopeful that new IMR management will be quickly found and a fresh start can be enjoyed by all.

I am surprised by the naiveté of commenters who seem to think that the directed reassignment referenced in a fax was the only method by which Mr. Snyder was informed of his pending transfer. Many SES folks are on the move. Nothing particularly unusual about that when there is a change in administration. The distinction with regard to Mr. Snyder is that he chose an especially classless way to communicate his personal choice to retire. He fools no one. And this fits his well established m.o. of doing business. He will not be missed in the IMR.

Waiting to exhale, I read with eyes wide open the announcement issued by Regional Director Mike Snyder on his blog thru Patricia Turley to all intermountain employees. There was glee aplenty in the office I was in. A few whoops and hollers and high fives. Then people went back to their desks and the work day continued on.

For me, as I returned to my desk, I started to breathe again. I have spent the last five years in this region being afraid and doing my job without drawing any attention or offering any ideas or suggestions. I suppose I became a drone to survive. Like many of my colleagues I was core oped and received a directed reassignment. Since I support a family I accepted the directed reassignment rather than retire. It has been hard on all of us including aging parents, high school kids and my extended family.

I don’t know what the future holds for the intermountain region but I look to the future with a measure of hope now. Most importantly I am not afraid. That feels really good.

Perhaps he thinks this:

" No office boy, no charwoman, no servant of any sort would have been dismissed with such callous disregard for the ordinary decencies..." --- Douglas MacArthur, on the method of his dismissal by President Harry Truman

Those many who lost their jobs through Core Ops which "Would not cost a single employee their Job" are rejoicing-True hard choices needed to be made, but the way it was done, with region making the choices with little or no regard to input from the actual park managers-was a travesty.

He should have resigned after the Director's memorandum that put an end to Core Ops in all of the NPS regions. It appears to me, that Mike Snyder wanted to push the Director to force the reassignment, since he couldn't be fired outright. I think it was in very poor taste for Mike Snyder to begin his blog with a "poor me," especially in consideration of all of the people, who held jobs in the IMR that were abruptly ended by him. He surely does not think he is going to receive any sympathy over his reassignment? I agree with those that think it is highly unlikely he didn't know about this earlier on. I think Mike Snyder wanted to make this as unpleasant and controversial for Director Jarvis as possible. Furthermore, I doubt that he will receive any sympathy from anyone in the IMR, other than from his small circle of sycophants. You had to have been there to understand the magnitude of damage Mike Snyder did to the IMR--the parks and the people.

Just a question from an outsider -- I notice that one of the earlier posts indicates Mr. Snyder was not an experienced, up-through-the-ranks NPS veteran when he was appointed IMR director. Was he somehow purely a political appointee of the late administration? What was his background?

Mike did not come into the NPS with his appointment as Regional Director - he had indeed worked for the NPS for for over 20 years - but he had virtually no field experience. He worked for some time as a planner with the Denver Service Center (the national planning and design center) and then moved to a position (within the same building) as the Chief of Planning for what was then the Rocky Mountain Region. From that he became one of the three "mini-regional directors" following the 1995 reorganization. When the NPS morphed back into it's old structure, Mike became the Deputy Regional Director. When the Regional Direcotr that preceeded him moved on to Washington - Mike got the big chair.

There is always a certain tension between central offices and the field (the park units themselves) - and having a Regional Director with almost no field experience (a couple of months once as Acting Superintendent at Glacier) helped to increase that tension. Added to that is the fact that those Mike has appointed to senior regional positions have little or no field experience with one or two rare exceptions. It's hard for field employees to rally around leadership that seemingly has little or no clue, and for the most part no experience, as to what really happens on the ground day to day in the parks.

I find it interesting that NPT provides a frank forum for discussion of this regional "meltdown." Unfortunately, there was no such outlet for the similar disaster that befell the Southeast Regional Office at the hands of directors selected by relativism and political correctness from 1999 into 2007. During that time, scores of dedicated employees had their lives and careers destroyed or diminished by individuals who were ill-prepared to lead, let alone manage. WASO, for the most part, ignored the problem while complaints, appeals, illnesses, resignations, early retirements, and legal actions mounted to embarrassing levels. For those of us who loved the parks and the NPS, it was heartbreaking to watch. For the future of the parks, the NPS, and its dedicated staff, I hope the current management remembers and learns from these issues that plagued SERO and IMRO for years. If they do not, I see the NPS, as the tiny office making up less than 0.001% of the federal budget, reorganized out of the existence while the parks themselves survive under "new" management. Let's hope that Jarvis, who seems well-versed in the Mather-Albright mantra, walks in the traces with the spirit of Hartzog and Dickenson. As for SES reassignment by fax, it may be cold, but it's honest and not beyond reality in corporate America. If the NPS needs anything these days, it's more reality.

Maybe we can use this thread to shed some light into the administrative side of the NPS, you never see when you visit a park. What is the purpose of the seven(?) regional offices anyway? How many staff work there - compared with a) the parks in the region and b) with the central offices in DC and other offices with national scope such as Harper's Ferry?

I have to admit, that I know close to nothing about the administrative side. How much of the regional offices and middle management in the (larger?) parks is consulting, controlling, documentation and the like which might be a more suitable place to cut costs than the rangers that "range"?

Mike Snyder spins a tale to get empathy. Sending a fax would not have been the initial effort by Director Jarvis to contact him. Other people and I have seen him ignore phone calls from the Director, even saying to a group that it was the Director calling and he was not going to answer the phone. Mike Snyder knew a reassignment was coming and was dodging phone calls and emails. A fax cornered him.

Adding to what RoadRanger wrote above. Director Jarvis should authorize a review of the Intermountain Regional Office staff and practices. Park field staff would have much to say about performance, favoritism, and qualifications of the highest graded regional employees. IMR needs a new regional director who will clean up the office starting with the directorate. Mike Snyder sprinkled his favorites with GS-14 and GS-15 grade increases as he left, not succeeding in all cases thanks to WASO required approval for GS-15s. There is lack of trust from the field for the corner office staff.

Writing to support these last comments. The Intermountain Regional Office has gone on a hiring spree of epic proportions over the last 18 months or so. Many high graded positions, GS 14 & 15s, most non-competitive or at least pre-selected for favorites. Lots of constant non-essential travel. What is doubly ironic is that this has come following the short sighted core operations processes where parks lost positions forever - despite being at the heart of what the agency is really all about. I am not a gratuitous government basher but it is hard to feel good about the federal government when one looks at the doings in the Intermountain Regional Office over the last four years. A careful review by non IMR regional office staff is necessary and hopefully some significant and rapid changes there. Good luck to the next regional director who will have to clean up Snyder's and his lieutenant's incredible mess and try to rebuild trust in the employees of the Intermountain Region.

The NPS needs to rethink its leadership model, if it even has one. Currently, we often see leaders selected into their positions for all the wrong reasons, including political correctness. Yes, I know it is difficult to discuss, but it is real.

During the mid-nineties, the reorganization years, a move away from operationally ground and sound leadership (rangers) was replaced with selections based upon diversity. Not necessarily diversity of gender, race or ethnicity, although that did play a part, but diversity of position and organizational background. Scores of planners were selected for upper management positions, including Superintendents.

The issue here is not diversity, but how an organization prepares, mentors, tests and selects its people for leadership. In our case, we did not work through any logical or accepted process for leadership secession. Oh, we made overtures that we considered leadership readiness, but it was a sham. We simply made our selections based upon 1) self-serving political considerations of the selecting supervisor; 2) personal / professional associations (friends); 3) subjective evaluation as to the candidate’s ability to conform to management direction, supervisory loyalty and ideological positioning; 4) philosophy ideology (rangers vs anybody else), and 5) to demonstrate how tolerant you where by aggressively pursuing diversity.

Again, the issue here is not diversity; I completely support equal opportunity for all, etc. The issue is how we prepare, evaluate and select our leaders. Can you imagine if, let’s say the U.S. Navy decided to select a central office planner for the operational command of war fighting vessel? Yes, the planner may technically be at the same grade level, but do they possess any subject matter expertise, supervisory and leadership experience or have they demonstrated complex operational leadership success in a series of progressively more difficult leadership positions? Probably, not.

The military would be horrified with the prospect of simply selecting a planner to captain a ship, due to an ideological premise and philosophical commitment to diversify its leadership, under the mantra of demonstrating its tolerance for multiple points of view, etc. However, this is exactly what the NPS does. Our captains are our Superintendents, and we select them for all the wrong reasons.

There are dozens of examples of how these selections have gone awry. For instance, consider the Superintendent of the C&O Canal NHP, Kevin Brandt, who was also a central office planner until selected into the Superintendent ranks. He had no operational experience, nor leadership or supervisory ability. Not a problem for the NPS, because most importantly, he demonstrated that he could conform and support the needs of higher management.

NPT reported on how this superintendent (allowed) the billionaire owner of the Washington Redskins Professional Football Team to harm park resources (cut hundreds of NPS managed trees), so he could improve the view from his Potomac River mansion; allegedly with the support and direction of the NPS Director and NCR Regional Director. Members of the park staff revolted, did their duty and blew the whistle. The OIG investigated and found that the NPS violated law and policy and some officials lied to investigators, but the Superintendent / Planner is still in place.

This is just one of many examples. It is the consequence of failing to grow and place into positions of leadership people who have a demonstrated ability to perform these functions. We can do better.

The NPS needs to go back to defining, teaching and enforcing its foundational values. We need to grow and select people for leadership positions who truly have this leadership ability and hold them accountable for making ethical, logical and mission based positions. The era of confusing management with leadership needs to come to an end.

This comment was edited.--Ed.

After reading through these comments, it becomes apparent that the roles and responsibilities and the size of our regional staffs have to be investigated and studied. Simply stated, there seems to be far too many people making much too much money who are traveling too much to do far too little.

Concerning salaries and compensation, I wrote in a previous comment (on core ops) the following: "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."

There's just something wrong with the picture these statistic create; it's a picture of too many people being paid far too much to do jobs which if eliminated might not really affect our parks too much. And with budget cuts and the anticipated budget freeze, it makes the problem become even more difficult. For instance, when push comes to shove and when the budget in each and every park has to be analyzed and trimmed, are we going to trim programs that affect visitor services, or look for for other areas to cut? Will the $15,000/year seasonal rangers be cut resulting in fewer tours and programs, or should a few of those positions at regional offices be trimmed through attrition and retirement?

Perhaps Mike Snyder did the honorable thing....and just retired instead of becoming just another expensive cog in the NPS regional bureaucracy.

To Mr. Schundler,
Right on with your comments. Time to downsize and possibly eliminate the regional offices and put the dollars back in the parks, the places for which the appropriations are actually intended, especially in anticipation of the coming frozen budgets and eventual budget reductions.

Wooohoo!!! This is great news!!

I wonder if there will be any fallout for the Core Ops team? I hope so. Snyder wasn't the one going to the parks, running the meetings, and reporting back whose job would be lost. Oh sorry, I mean what positions were to be eliminated - after all, this wasn't about the individuals in the positions, only the positions themselves. Sure. Right.

Every RD leaves a legacy both good and bad depending on your perspective. Mr. Snyder did not bring core- ops into the NPS alone. It originated when current Grand Canyon Superintendent Steve Martin was IMR RD, just prior to becoming Deputy Director, at that time Mr. Snyder was Deputy RD of IMR. Read into that what you want. Core-Ops led many to realize a heightened level of fiduciary responsibility. No mater how that realization came to pass the NPS needed it and still does! Yet many felt core-ops was a waste of time. A wide wake of retirements and re-assignments resulted from core-ops, some deserved, some not, some graceful, some ugly. Regardless difficult change ensued and the results remain. Let's hope the next IMR RD will be as bold as Mr. Snyder was with core-ops but, with positive results and that their leadership style leads is infused with the grace and strength to improve morel and enhance esprit de corp for all the employees of the IMR.

How Mr. Snyder's retirement transpired is the latest incident in the messy politics that have become the norm of senior management in the NPS. Too bad.....

The first law of NPS management is change makes waves. The second law is don't make waves.

The Intermountain Region and its resources and employees can now breathe a sigh of relief! This region has suffered through Snyder's "ideas" since its early in 1995 when Snyder was assigned to support office superintendent, onto a deputy regional director and then to regional director -- fifteen years of less-than forthright management. Although Snyder may not be reading this blog, he canno possibly be leaving this job with a smile. Who could possibly be going on to retirement with a smile on one's face being cognizant of the damage one has doe to resources and people. Snyder should follow his philosophy/principle "every chnage in life requires a change in thinking". Let's hope that he adheres to it -- or is it again, as Snyder has parcticed throuout his last few years in management/executive positions, a practice of spouting empty words and ideas. How many time did he imbue his "graciousness and eloquence of ideas" to gullible leadership?

Yes, Snyder di not always act alone, right Steve Martin? Snyder's practices were felt by many when he was deputy regional director. The practice only intensified when he was "annointed" regional director. Where was upper managment Ms. Bomar? Or was Snyder the appropriate pawn for the previous administration's interests. If so, they found an appropriate one. And where were the checks and balances Mr. Crowley? Sound personnel management and resource management has to be anchored on implementation of solid personnel regulations and resource management principles.

One cannot, as has been mentioned before, believe that Director Jarvis would sink so low as to employ the underhanded actions that Snyder and Martin employed. Director Jarvis, the Jon Jarvis that I know, is a man of integrity and would not employ cowardice practices in reassigning Snyder. Snyder had to have known, not just sensed, that his days were numbered when a career NPSer was nominated and by the Secretary and confirmed by the Senate that his days were numbered. Too many of the "green bloods" were most aware of Snyder's record and disregard of basic human practices and disregard for the stewardship of the resources with which he was entrusted. Knowing all of this in your heart Mr. Snyder, how can you leave with a smile?

This all sounds very familiar, somehow. Forty years ago, we were all hollering about top heavy management -- and we still are. But it's very refreshing to see an open forum like this. Sometimes, just sometimes, talking or writing openly brings improvement. We can hope so.

And it was impressive to see the openness of the editors when they inserted a small note indicating a post had been edited. There are other places where editing is done on the sly. Not here.

Keep up the good work, everyone!

After I read of Mike Snyder’s decision to retire, I went to the NPT blog that first appeared with the announcement of core operations being cancelled. It was incredibly hard to read and be reminded of all the sadness, shattered lives, ruined careers and lingering pain that lay in the wake of Snyder’s core operations and his own particular brand of brutality. But what is even more disturbing is that this kind of reign of terror could take place over a span of several years with no one in the so called leadership of the NPS willing to deal with this along with the many complicit at IMR who did his bidding without question. It will go down as the most shameful chapter in the history of the agency. How the current leadership deals with all that is left in Snyder’s wake of disaster and dysfunction in IMR will tell us all we need to know about whether anyone really gets it. Will current leadership take action to correct the situation and perhaps even hold some accountable?
The trail is there, just follow the money. Snyder choosing SES retirement is a shrewd exit strategy considering the punitive actions that could be possible. At a minimum, Snyder aught to understand how reviled he is and just leave quietly, minus sending out the insulting all IMR employee blog to tell us he is leaving us with a smile. Riiiiiiight. More like smiling all the way to the bank.

"The NPS Director is using the same poor NPS supervisory leadership transition techniques on Mr. Snyder, that Mr. Snyder used on many of his superintendents. This case is illuminating, and I must say, not reassuring in regards to Director Jarvis. Mr. Snyder was not a good RD, but to end a career by FAX is another example of what is wrong with NPS leadership. It is weak, unethical and fosters a work environment of distrust."

------------

It is discouraging to note the lack of critical reading skills on the part of this contributor and a few others: taking one interested party's account of an incident as definitive, neither questioning its veracity nor inquiring whether there might be more to the story. Before condemning the Director for "poor supervisory leadership transition techniques" and tossing around terms such as "weak" and "unethical," it would be wise to do a little more fact-checking.

The above "resume" statement is accurate. Just to add to it, Mike came to the NPS from having worked for some years (do not know how many) for the US Forest Service...I think in Wyoming.

I wonder, was the Intermountain Region the only NPS Region affected by a heavy-handed style of upper management decision-making? If so, it would be very interesting to learn what were the factors that allowed Mr. Snyder to survive for so long in the NPS, without the same factors affecting other regions and other park units as well?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Regarding Mr. Hoffman's comment: An atmosphere of fear and mistrust has been the reality in the NPS for some time now. The comment above which expressed a climate of workplace fear and employee survival can be found in many regions and parks. Try SER, NCR and HFC for starters.

The NPS is in a period of excessive politicization, fueled by the politics of personal achievement or destruction. Which side you find yourself on is largely dependent upon circumstance and the ethics of those in your leadership chain. And, we have all experienced the quality of NPS leadership, so no explanations necessary.

As to why this is allowed to exist, you need look no farther than the destructive politics and workplace realities of today's NPS. It can be dangerous to take a stand. Once management direction on any subject is established, right or wrong, the troops fall in line - or risk getting destroyed. Its that bad. A climate which encourages dissenting opinion is hard to find.

How can a quality science-based NPS program of high integrity flourish if dissenting opinion is suppressed?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Who said this outfit was flourishing?

Perhaps with the departure of Mr. Snyder and others of his ilk, a little more flourishing will be able to occur. Getting rid of a few more of the GS-14 and GS-15 positions in the Regional Offices (who do little other than travel to unconstructive meetings) and sending that money on down to the parks where it is needed, would also help move us to "flourishing."

Isn't it really telling that all this newly shared horror about Mike Snyder and the lack of leadership, not only in IMR but across the system comes out in a blog on NPT? There are scores of others in NPS, right now, working for supervisors who should NEVER be allowed to oversee any human being. At all levels, we are full up with incompetent, anti-social, anti-people managers who impede our forward motion and who seem to thrive on controling the fate of our most talented and creative individuals.

Our unit went through the A-76 (Competitive Sourcing) process, then through CoreOps. Both were very difficult, but CoreOps was worse because it was more capricious and less well-thought-out (read professional) and far less developed as a management initiative. I think the development of a Performance Work Statement for park unit activities (under A-76) is a GREAT thing. It makes everyone think _explicitly_ about the tasks they do, why the do them, how they do them, what the results are, and how long they take. We had a small professional team (with experience in PWS development in the Army) that came in and interviewed all employees, characterized and described all the work, and wrote it up as a series of tasks and annual goals. We could then assign hours to the tasks---like professional attorneys, accountants, doctors, etc.---and actually evaluate how much time we spent on tasks, determine whether we made our goals efficiently, and MANAGE the tasks we did based on real data. This type of activity happens all the time in private businesses. It is a key to transparency and accountability, especially when professionals are paid $25-$80 per hour.

When the A-76 team came to me, I told the Delta Solutions A-76 contractors that I thought that this type of management initiative was just a way of NPS managers avoiding the hardest part of managing---i.e. limiting staff growth, dealing with under-producing and off-task staff members, and addressing conduct and performance problems with direct reports. It is a chicken-sh*t way of management. I suggested that NPS managers needed to have the courage to manage by doing preliminary evaluations of park staffing levels and tasks and making changes---reductions if they were called for---administratively before pushing all staff in a park unit through this type of personnel meat-grinder. I don't know if what I said sunk in, but pretty soon after that the Preliminary Planning Effort initiative was "rolled-out".

When we were pushed through CoreOps, it felt like a ham-handed, poor cousin of A-76. Dividing activities into Core, Support to Core, and non-related to Core? Come on! I can walk without my left leg (it would only be "support to core"), but... Because we had already gone through A-76, we could only identify 1 FTE of work out of 45 that was not Core or Support to Core.

The real keys to productivity and caring for park resources are inter-personnel. Do my team members (in the 360 management sense) show the highest levels of accomplishment and responsibility (fiscal and otherwise)? Can I trust them to always do the legal, moral, and ethical thing? Can this responsibility be accomplished at a lower level with fewer "approvals", but with mano-a-mano accountability? Do my employees and colleagues know their job? Can they learn or teach themselves what they don't know? Do they need help? Is this the easiest legal way to do this task? Can it be done with fewer steps?

Unfortunately, a large percentage of middle and upper management in the NPS got to their positions by not "rocking the boat," by being the "friend of XXX," or being "experienced". But they haven't fired someone for poor performance, or relieved someone for conduct problems. I remember being interviewed for a VERY prestigious position in Washington and being asked "Normally this position is for staff with 12-15 years experience, what makes you think that you are ready for it (I had 8 years in the NPS at the time)?" Doesn't my Ph.D., supervisory experience, ability to gather recommendations from 3 regional directors in two days, etc. tell you why I'm ready? Are you kidding?! Well, when the rising talent with OUTSTANDING credentials, evaluations, drive, mission-commitment, and skills are not selected on merit, it guarantees a future of mediocrity and eventual obsolescence. Stephen Mather did not have a breakdown, work countless nights, drive himself and his family to distraction, and drive Congress and various administrations to distraction, to see a gang of gutless appointees and climbers fritter away the legacy. It is time for courage, mission commitment, teamwork, action, and resourcefulness.

I look at jobs in other agencies, but I always look in the NPS first because it is a mission I 95% believe in---although the siren-song of a Pinchot-ian conservation ethic is tempting sometimes. But it is discouraging to see the weakness we have in upper management. If Mike Snyder had been courageous, he would have taken the call from Director Jarvis. Jarvis shouldn't have had to fax a re-assignment. The current Grand Canyon superintendent, when he was Deputy Director, dared to say that we should do "less-with-less" and was "demoted" less than 3 months later. The message has been clear from the top (OMB/DOI/NPS appointees)---CONFORM or suffer. It needs to be equally clear from the bottom---WE WILL ALWAYS GATHER OUR ALLIES AND FIGHT FOR THE MISSION---top to bottom at the risk of our jobs, if necessary. I believe that the American People love the parks because we have generally protected their valuable resources well. We forget that fact at our peril.

In response to the comments from “NPS Survivor”. I appreciated reading your comments and perspectives on the A-76, a process which I was not familiar with. You made some great points. However I would dispute the end of your discussion where you refer to the current superintendent at Grand Canyon being “demoted” for saying NPS needs to do less with less. This philosophy adopted while in D.C. was done to please the DOI political appointees of the previous administration from his post as Deputy Director and frequently as Acting Director. He actually engineered his reassignment from Deputy Director in D.C. to superintendent at Grand Canyon by using then regional director Mike Snyder(who by the way, he also selected as imr regional director) to force Joe Alston out of his superintendent position at Grand Canyon in the harshest of ways. This was far from a demotion. Along with his parachute to Grand Canyon, his wife was promoted without competition into a new “group superintendent position” by Mike Snyder, in a location proximate to Grand Canyon, despite the fact his wife had essentially no park operations supervisory experience. None of this was lost on NPS employees throughout the Service. It is perhaps the reason so many of us became skeptical about the “leadership” of the NPS. We can only hope lessons have been learned and we might move forward as an agency with renewed commitment to mission and to our employees.

It is gratifying to know that what I've been saying about the sad state of professional standards in the NPS (which I have been openly vilified for) is now coming to light from agency insiders who are being smothered by the bureaucratic careerism and lockstep marching of loyalty to mediocre, at best, leaders and of the ladder climbing politics of conformity and never rocking the boat.

Let us hope that this forum will help lead this very weakened and compromised agency out of the morass it now finds itself in. The fact that all of the writers have chosen to remain anonymous tells me a great deal about what an uphill struggle it will actually be.

Thanks to NPS Survivor, brenda starr and all of the other courageous Anonymous posters who chose to share a glimpse into the abysmal bureaucratic mess that is the modern NPS which is so often ignored by park supporters who just want more funds and additional land areas without ever stopping to consider just who exactly it is that is running the show. Your words have done much to shed some light on this subject and hopefully bring change.

Truth be told, though, I ain't holding my breath.

What About the Other Snyder Case?

It has been interesting to read about the saga of the Intermountain Region Director Mike Snyder. The alleged management style and practices appear to be consistent with other top National Park Service brass who worked closely with past NPS Director Fran Manella.

During Manella's reign, there was the typical revolving door of NPS staff across the agency who visited Washington, D.C. to assist the Director's Office with agency business. Often these staff were emersed in some politically sensitive issue. Many of the staff who assisted Fran on these detail assignments, were typically rewarded.

I am sure that many of your readers have questioned the circumstances of Steve Martin and Palma Wilson's placement in key NPS jobs in Arizona. Why is Kevin Brandt still serving at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in Maryland after the unethical and illegal activities undertaken relative to secret dealing which led to the removal of trees on National Park lands? This situation was linked directly to Fran Manella and a few behind the scenes faces that want Kevin Brandt to remain silent. What about Teresa Chambers? The NPS made many mistakes relative to this very unfortunate situation.

Hopefully, with removal of Mike Snyder, that some of Fran's cronies sitting in key positions in the NPS will realize that their "Snyder-like" approach to management is not acceptable in the new administration. Hopefully, the NPS will be able to recover from the cancerous actions of Snyder and a few others still out there.

Mike Snyder's statement, "When I checked into my hotel, there was a fax waiting for me at the front desk," is just his side of the story. As espoused by others: how many phone calls, voices mails, and other messages he avoided/ignored he simply overlooks to mention in his pity-party comments. It would seem apparent that he knew it was coming and chose to make it as difficult as possible for the Director to do the house cleaning that is needed.
Those who have lost their jobs due Snyder’s ideological approach to dismantling the IMR, Core-Ops, feel no joy at this. The real concern is about how long it will take to repair the very real damage that has been done.
One down, more than a few to go…

From Anonymous above:

Along with his parachute to Grand Canyon, his wife was promoted without competition into a new “group superintendent position” by Mike Snyder, in a location proximate to Grand Canyon, despite the fact his wife had essentially no park operations supervisory experience.

In my era, 1966-1971, nepotism in hiring and promotion inside the NPS was monitored and actively discouraged. What has happened over the decades?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Owen Hoffman's question merits some discussion. I do believe that spouses in the good old days when I started in the NPS, late 50s through early seventies, had a tough row to hoe. In those days spouses were, by definition, the wives. They were (hope this is not to harsh), to be seen but not heard. I can remember my first permanent assignment in a major park, I was just recently married to a women who was better educated than I and very talented. My everlasting good fortune I might add, and I was called in by the manager of my division and informed my wife, now that she was married to me, would have to resign her management position with the Park concessionaire. She was at that time manager of one of the offices. Well, I went home and, not really knowing what to do, but humbly informed her that she was going to have to quit her job. Orders from my boss. She looked at me, asked for the bosses phone number and immediately called him. She informed him that yes, she had married me, but she was not married to the National Park Service and had no intention of leaving her position. Never heard another word. But it does point to the issue of the complexities of nepotism. It does seem unreasonable to punish a spouse, male on female, on the basis of being married. On the other hand, the allegations in this case, if true, are serious. Certainly, a spouse should not be appointed simply on the basis of their marital status in a government public service position. Its an interesting policy issue.

Dual career positions are a good idea, assuming that both spouses are qualified. They were encouraged to eliminate the old problem that ron mackie discusses, of qualified wives being treated like Army wives out of movies like Fort Apache. Although I have never participated in the program, I have known many, many highly qualified couples who both made important contributions to the work force. Many parks were and some still are isolated, and few jobs available except jobs related to the park. If a spouse could get another job nearby, an additional burden would be when the Park Employee spouse is transfered. and the other spouse would have to leave a promising career. Dual career programs went part of the way to bring the NPS into the 20th Century, and was mostly helpful.

The wife of the current Grand Canyon Superintendent is highly regarded by many I know. I would think she could qualify for most any job she really wanted, and would be an asset to the operation.

I also think the world of Joe Alston, but think all the one-size-fits-all/ black&white responses are really beneath most of the posters here, except of course for Beamis. Who can blame anyone like Deputy Director Martin for longing to return to the field after working for Fran Mainella? Especially considering who he would have had to work for if he'd stayed in DC.

Alston and Martin both did the best they knew how on behalf of the parks and the american people, under extremely trying circumstances.

I prefer to think most of those who raise disturbing things that have happened to the NPS do so to show that we can fix the problems, and return to the professionalism of the past, while evolving to respond to the challenges of the future. Other than Beamis, most of us are confident the parks can be healed, and expect to see more healing under Director Jarvis.

I always wondered if NPS had two different management systems in place simultaneously and expensively.

The first is the publicly acknowledged highly decentralized Superintendent model. It places authority closest to the field. Subject matter knowledge in specialized disciplines can be limited.

The second is a highly centralized (and robustly staffed*) regional office model where subject matter experts rule via policy and standards and, lately, control of highly specialized fund sources.** Despite the large investment in staffing it's not at all clear that the structure permits meaningful evaluation of superintendents.

Caught between lies the field employee.

*Many years ago, when the NPS had 10 thousand permanant employees and 10 regions I counted the names on one regional office phone list. 330 was the number, if I remember right. So in this highly unscientific survey, considering 10 regions plus Washington, 3,600 out of 10 thousand permanant employees were in some headquarters position. In my field days that made me angry. Later in my career I thought some headquarters functions were poorly staffed indeed.

** Today much park level energy is spent applying to the National Park Service for National Park monies. The specialized 'pots' may, or may not, meet the operational needs of the park. This methodology limits the effectiveness of the decentralized superintendent model, requires larger headquarters staffs, but does facilitate servicewide initiatives.

What does this mean? Lots of things I suppose. Fundamentally, I think it points to conflict as to whether the NPS is protecting 380 individual units or one nationwide system.

After skimming the last 10-days of comments, I'll add mine to the mix:
- I knew Snyder, and he perceived the IMRO as the center of importance.
- He very likely condoned many more nepotism cases, and his staff knows it!
- He couldn't have acted alone on his seemingly record number of life-ruining reassignments.

I for one would very much welcome an internal investigation of the IMR with full public disclosure...lets don't sweep this under the rug. The NPS will be better for it. The only way anyone can heal and quickly move forward from this is bring it all out into the clear blue sky of truth. If you need proof, look at last Monday's USA Today on how the Siemans Corp dealt with a corporate mess. Good recipe for change.

One more thing. The fax obviously wasn't the first attempt...and I doubt it was even the 12th attempt. But make no mistake, it was (finally) the right thing to do. When leadership is this bad, you just end it.

Thanks to the previous two commenters who were right on target with their questions. I really appreciated the comments by the commenter which said, "Today much park level energy is spent applying to the National Park Service for National Park monies. The specialized 'pots' may, or may not, meet the operational needs of the park. This methodology limits the effectiveness of the decentralized superintendent model, requires larger headquarters staffs, but does facilitate servicewide initiatives." Yet alone the intrinsic favoritism that has been a primary criteria for Mike Snyder and his senior staffers when money is doled out.
Let's hope the national office is paying attention and may choose to carefully evaluate the practices in place at IMR regional offices. Perhaps one last round of core operations focused on the regional office would be good medicine for what ails us, at least in the Intermountain West of the NPS.