John Wessels Appointed Director of National Park Service's Intermountain Region

John Wessels, who has served as the National Park Service’s Intermountain Region associate director for administration, business and technology since 2004, has been named director of the region, the largest in the agency.

Mr. Wessels succeeds Mike Snyder, who opted to take retirement not long after Jon Jarvis took the helm of the Park Service. While the Park Service director never came out and directly said it, Mr. Snyder’s management style was widely criticized in the Intermountain Region for taking a predetermined approach when it came to cutting both personnel and programs.

“John has an incredible track record of tackling tough issues and finding
innovative solutions,” Director Jarvis said Monday in announcing the appointment. “Results-oriented and goal-driven, John manages by inclusion, building a collaborative work ethic among employees and with partners. He strives for the highest standards of transparency and accountability. He has an easy grasp of the big picture and is dedicated to the effective use of new and emerging technologies to meet the needs of the National Park Service.

“As the National Park Service looks toward its second century, he will be a valuable member of our national senior management team.”

Mr. Wessels called the appointment a “tremendous honor.”

“The region is home to some of this country’s most spectacular landscapes and most compelling stories, places that have been entrusted to the National Park Service by the American people for nearly 100 years. It is our privilege to care for the natural and cultural resources in parks and to work with communities around the region to help them preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities for their citizens.

“For me, this is an opportunity to support employees in their dedicated efforts to care for these special places and engage park visitors, partners, and communities,” he added in a prepared statement. “I will listen carefully to their voices as we work together to preserve these places, engage the public, draw young people to the parks, and provide meaningful experiences to our diverse audiences.”

During the last 18 months, Mr. Wessels has led the investment of $200 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds in priority park projects across the region.  He was the key figure in developing a virtual acquisition strategy that has improved accountability and empowered the workforce with more flexibility for purchasing and contracting, according to the Park Service.  He was responsible for overseeing property management for 43 million acres of public land and more than 2,000 park structures.

Mr. Wessels joined the Park Service in 2000 as the Intermountain Region’s comptroller, where he managed all finance and budget-related activities and developed a web-based system to integrate financial systems data and project information to provide park managers with real-time access to critical income and expense data by park.

During his career he has served as acting deputy superintendent at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, acting deputy Intermountain regional director, acting associate director for business services at the National Park Service headquarters in Washington, D.C., and most recently as acting superintendent of Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway in Wyoming.

From 1989 to 2000, Wessels worked for U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder managing financial and administrative functions and systems for the national physics laboratory.

The Intermountain Region spans the states of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.  The region includes 92 parks encompassing 11.1 million acres; employs 6,000 permanent and seasonal employees, and generates one-half of all National Park Service concession revenues.  It has more than 230 national historic landmarks and more than 11,000 properties listed in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

Comments

Isn't he the very person who was responsible for implementing and executing the "core ops" program? The description of his former position sounds like it.

Good observation MRC - and Mr. Wessels was definitely in the thick of things with Core Ops but likely just doing what it took to please the old boss, but it is disconcering to know that the old regime will be alive and well in the Intermountain regional office. John is a yes man - saying whatever needs to be said to please whomever he's saying it to. No follow through and he seldom finishes things that he starts. It's not that surprising that he has been named Regional Director - he's spent his entire time with the NPS positioning himself for bigger and brighter things.

How we had hoped for Jon Jarvis to appoint a career NPS employee with broad field experience but alas it's not to be - business as usual and regional leadership sorely lacking in field experience. I fear this will just appear as vindication for the direction they have taken the region over the past several years. It's sad really, the focus needs to be on park resources and park visitors but the regional office seems to have forgotten that in thier zeal to try and operate a government agency as a business enterprise.

Anonymous,

As I understand it, a three-person search committee handled the interviews/vetting and that this was an an open search throughout NPS.

That said, certainly the core ops drama that played out in IMR will focus a keen spotlight on whoever got the job.

The lack of field experience is an interesting aspect. Nevertheless, shouldn't Mr. Wessels be given an opportunity to prove himself and live up to his pledge to "support employees in their dedicated efforts to care for these special places and engage park visitors, partners, and communities. I will listen carefully to their voices as we work together to preserve these places, engage the public, draw young people to the parks, and provide meaningful experiences to our diverse audiences.”

The National Park Service is a more dynamic animal, and administratively more sophisticated, than any one person. Park superintendents, chief rangers, Denver Service Center, and indeed the public are welcome to participate in National Park management. The time may be right for a two-way dialogue to take shape, both honestly and respectfully about those issues impacting NPS business behind-the-scenes. I am willing to bet, that while controversy may be part of the past, that there are very few actual villains. The people involved with the Parks must always assume a place at the dance.

Ben Lord

Kurt - you are right - Mr. Wessels should be given a chance to live up to the comments made in the press release announcing his selection - one does have to wonder if those were actually his words or if they were written for him - but never-the-less he had to have had approval on the content of the press release.

I wish Mr. Wessels no ill will and I hope he succeeds beyond all expectations as director of the largest region in the NPS. That said - those in the field in the Intermountain Region have ten years experience watching Mr. Wessels operate from the regional office and it has not always been with a firm grasp of what the priorities of the NPS really should be. Certainly he had to manage through the Mike Snyder view of the world, but you can't blame field people for being somewhat disappointed that there was nobody better or at least equally as qualified who did not learn park management from the Snyder years.

Time shall tell if the region moves in a positive direction or if it vindicates the past and continues in the same direction as the past few years.

That it was a nationwide search, at least by the vacancy announcement, is certain. That it was the best choice is less certain - and we don't even know if it was truly Director Jarvis' choice - these appointments must be vetted far above the Director's office - that's just a political reality in this day and age.

Hi Kurt- it was nice to run into you on the Avalanche Trail. I hope you had a wonderful hike to Avalanche Lake! - Teagan (Interp. Ranger)

Secretary Salazar is from Colorado. Mr. Wessels is from Colorado.

Never has a decision been so eagerly awaited, and never has one been so bitterly disappointing. Mr. Wessels was a key part of the Intermountain Region’s business-motivated strategies - deeply involved with Core Ops, and a number of costly Business Management Planning efforts that were forced upon IMR parks and then abandoned. His business-centric emphasis represents the worst of what the Snyder years witnessed. I personally heard him attack the Vanishing Treasures program that was so vital to the preservation of archeological resources throughout the region and elsewhere. I am deeply disappointed that Mr. Jarvis selected a person who has spent his brief 10 years with the NPS in the Intermountain Regional Office. Wessels has experienced little of the NPS other than beginning his limited NPS education under the tutelage of Mike Snyder. Perhaps even more seriously, his career experience has not included time in parks (other than detail assignments) and he shares that unfortunate characteristic with Mr. Snyder.
I fear a very bad message is being sent to all of the Intermountain Region employees indicating that change is not really in the offing, that the NPS mission is subordinate to NPS business practices. I too would like to think that John Wessels may harbor some beneficial management insights that were hidden from view while implementing Snyder’s wishes and that he will truly listen to the voices of the NPS employees in Intermountain, but I also fear that this is highly unlikely.
This decision is a poor one…Mr. Jarvis has destroyed the hope that so many of us in the Intermountain Region have harbored since Snyder’s departure. This selection was likely a political one, made at the Department level, but nonetheless does not represent the kind of change we were so desperately hoping for.

"The National Park Service is a more dynamic animal, and administratively more sophisticated, than any one person."

hmmm...Perhaps the inverse of Ben's statement is more accurate. Insert "static" and "provincial" for dynamic and sophisticated.

As does Kurt, I believe that the new RD should be given the opportunity to make his own decisions. Only then will we be able to judge the quality of those decisions. I have friends who have very good instincts in the Intermountain Region who believe that John's appointment will be beneficial for the region.

His first memo to his colleagues in the region demonstrated grace, humility and a willingness to listen, qualities all in short supply in that region for some time. Let's cut him some slack until we see his leadership qualities in action.

Rick

I share Rick & Kurt's comments about giving John Wessels a chance to perform and represent the values of the NPS. Anyone who worked closely with Mike Snyder knows how difficult that could be and the bodies that were left behind attest to his management style. We all were grateful that Jon Jarvis was selected as the NPS Director because we trusted his judgment and knew of his dedication to the Service. He is also not the kind of person to roll over and just "give in" on the appointment of someone to a position that is critical to the success of the National Park Service. We need to back both Jon and John and give them to chance to move the NPS where most of us have thought that the agency was straying away from the last few years.

While all we are left with is the "give him a chance" mentality, it is clear that Wessels has a bad track record. If we dismiss that track record as simply Snyder's evil influence, we are left with an Intermountain Region insider who has practically no NPS experience beyond the Regional Office budget and one has to wonder how he could be best qualified to lead the Intermountain Region out of the quagmire.
The appearance of selecting Mr. Wessels, given his closeness to past events in IMR, clearly sends the wrong message. This is the concern of my contacts in the IMR, and I understand their pessimism. With all due respect, it may have been much wiser to select someone with new ideas from another area of the NPS.

Give him a chance - we're forced to - but that still does not mean his selection was a wise one. On the other hand, it's my understanding that the best candidate(s) didn't want to take on the IMR problems. Hard to understand how someone so deeply ingrained in those problems can straighten them out.
Mr. Wessels came to the NPS as the IMR comptroller, or to use the jargon, as a bean counter. I truly hope he can finally see the parks and people from behind that big jar of beans.
Good decision or not, we have to wish John Wessels the best in his efforts to rebuild Intermountain Region.

Are there no qualified career people who could do this job? This is a puzzling choice and not a good signal to career people.

This was no merit system vetting process, it was an industry appointed decision. Obvious TALKING POINTS, seen here by industry sent commenters to convince the public:
-“Give him a chance - we're forced to”
-“Shouldn't Mr. Wessels be given an opportunity to prove himself”
-“ we have to wish John Wessels the best in his efforts to rebuild Intermountain Region.”
-“ Let's cut him some slack until we see his leadership qualities in action.”
-“I believe that the new RD should be given the opportunity to make his own decisions”
-“Mr. Wessels should be given a chance to live up to the comments made in the press release”

more dishonest info: “a three-person search committee handled the interviews/vetting and that this was an an open search throughout NPS.” “That it was a nationwide search, at least by the vacancy announcement, is certain.”

Finally, how does he REALLY qualify to protect our national treasures, he'll ACT one way and DO another=
acting deputy superintendent at Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco,
acting deputy Intermountain regional director,
acting associate director for business services at the National Park Service headquarters in Wash D.C.,
most recently acting superintendent of Grand Teton National Park .
before that for 11 years worked for a lab selling products with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Obviously the NPS didn’t use the “BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES” to hire, instead use the ole’ most money for natural resources international sales practices.

sadly our nation is corrupted, it will not be corrected.

A highly qualified career NPS'er with strong roots in resource protection and preservation is perhaps the last person park concessioners and gateway community businesses would want to see take over at the helm of the Intermountain Region. From the given qualifications of Mr. Wessel, it appears that his appointment was likely influenced by strong political forces within and external to the NPS with sensitivities to the regional importance of national parks as the economic engines of industrial tourism.

"Never has a decision been so eagerly awaited, and never has one been so bitterly disappointing."

That my friends is the whole story in a single sentence.

Never has a region been so starved for effective, balanced, and experienced leadership and we've been served damaged goods. The best people can muster in support of Wessel's selection seems to be "give him a chance" or let's "wait and see."

We've waited far too long to re-emerge from years of vindictiveness, narrow vision, and lack of field experience. As one commenter observed we were thrilled when Jon Jarvis was named Director - but don't ask us to be thrilled that one of the prime architects of the programs that ran this region into the ground has been selected as the Regional Director.

Wessells may well be a gifted leader (although there is little strong evidence if you look at the programs he has been responsible for during the last decade) - but he begins with at least one hand tied behind his back. Why make the parks in the Intermountain Region suffer that handicap?

Unquestionably John Wessels was associated with Mike Snyder for many years and it is understandable that there be some concerns about how independent he will be. But the "guilty-before-proven-innocent" comments from within the Intermountain Region are disheartening, to say the least. The conspiracy theorists are not helping themselves, or the NPS, here.

Whether or not one is a fan of Jon Jarvis, I am nonetheless convinced that this was a fair and open hiring process. John Wessels is NOT one of Jarvis' cronies, nor particularly close to Salazar or DOI leadership. While he doesn't have a lot of field experience, Wessels is an outstanding manager, committed to his core to the NPS parks and people, and of the utmost integrity. He's also a recent graduate of the Department of the Interior's Senior Executive Service training program, the highest level training program in the agency. It's simply unfair and untrue to say he isn't qualified, even if some wished the new RD came from a different discipline.

He'll have to separate himself from Snyder, and quickly. But I think he may surprise people and make a very good regional director.

JLongstreet
NPS Park Superintendent

This comment flies in the face of reality. Mr. Wessels has not demonstrated the traits of a good NPS manager...those of us who actually worked with and around him in IMR know that for a long time, his focus was on pleasing Snyder's "run the NPS like a business" mentality. Wessels was right there with him. And his graduating from Interior's SES training is hardly a reason to think he's qualified to lead the region...Snyder was a SES'r as well. I'm afraid it is "unfair and untrue" to maintain that he is qualified to lead the Region...there simply is no real evidence (besides the rhetoric we've been hearing) to support this.
Undoubtedly, the politically savvy thing to do here is to support the selection publicly. Unfortunately, there is a lot of painfully-earned cynicism rampant in the Intermountain Region and it is difficult to understand how this selection serves the NPS well. Lessons learned in the past few years have shown that silence on these issues, while perhaps preserving some sort of false NPS loyalty, does not serve the NPS well. I’m sure there are many who lost their jobs or were forced to move that find it difficult to simply accept this decision.
It will indeed be a surprise if John Wessels becomes a very good regional director, and that’s the problem.

So JLongstreet - just whhich NPS do you work for? Curious that there isn't a single Longstreet listed in our email directory?

Perhaps the first real evidence of what John Wessels will do as Regional Director will come as he fills the three Associate Regional Director positions that are now vacant - let's see who he surrounds himself with in the hall of heroes at the IMR. The ARD for Operations, arguably one of the most important positions has been vacant for over a year - will it be someone with field experience or not? Perhaps most important to watch is the selection of the ARD for Administration, Business & Technology - the position that Wessels just vacated. Will it go to someone who can restore and rebuild that which has been broken or will it go to the current acting who was the queen of Core Operations?

I keep reading about core operations, can someone tell me what it is, and what problems it caused?

Thanks Mr. Wessels for the plastic bottle ban, although I think it's
completely off target. On my first trip to the Grand Canyon in 2008 I was
completely appalled by the amount of litter and trash all over the canyon floor
at the Havasupai Indian Reservation/Havasu Falls area. On the way out I picked
up as much of the litter as I could, filling two large, black trash bags,
encouraging others along the route out of the canyon to do likewise. I
picked up everything in the eleven mile stretch except for the large dump of
litter stretching from the foot of the basin to the top, which was far too much
to remove. As I recall, the majority of the trash I hauled out of the
reservation was actually aluminum cans, although there was a great deal of
plastic bottles. Maybe we can get a ban on aluminum too? Oh, while you're at it, please place
a ban on dirty diapers and single shoes with no mate. I found those
too. Stupid one-legged mothers.

Even though a plastics ban is a good starting point, I think the better
approach wouldn't be to eliminate plastic bottles, but impose / enforce fines
for littering. But don't expect any help from the native
population. They didn't seem to care about the litter.

The reservation is not part of the park. Two entirely separate entitities.