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National Park Service Falls in "Best Places To Work" Rankings


As an agency, the National Park Service is moving in the wrong direction in the annual Best Places To Work directory of federal agencies.

While the Park Service stood 139th among federal agencies in the 2010 rankings, the latest accounting shows the agency has slipped to 163rd out of 240 agencies.

When he was appointed director of the agency in 2009, among the pledges Jon Jarvis made was a commitment to improve the day-to-day life of Park Service employees.

"To help you succeed, we will provide the funding, training, succession planning, recognition, facilities, and policies you need to get your work done," he said at the time.

But the agency, struggling with funding in a sour economy, ranks poorly in its employees' view of pay, training, teamwork, work/life balance, diversity, and other areas, according to the latest rankings produced by the Partnership for Public Service, which relies on data from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to rank agencies and their subcomponents.

In the category of work/life balance, the Park Service ranked 221 out of 229 agencies; under teamwork, it ranked 217 out of 229; under strategic management, it stood 212 out of 229; in terms of training and development, it stood 210 out of 229; in the category of support for diversity, it ranked 214 out of 229; in the category of effective leadership--supervisors, the agency stood 204th; in effective leadership--leaders it did a bit better, ranking 190th.

The Park Service did score relatively high when it comes to matching employees to their missions, as the agency stood 77th out of 229 agencies.

In comparison to some other agencies, the Park Service ranked better, overall, than the U.S. Forest Service, but more poorly than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Director Jarvis did not immediately respond to a request for his views on the latest rankings. However, the agency's program manager for workplace enrichment, Kate Richardson, attributed some of the agency's poor showing to the government's struggling fiscal standing.

"Uncertainty over jobs, operations, pay and benefits have made 2011 an especially difficult year and 2012 doesn’t appear that it will be any better," she said in a release. "However, 93 percent of NPS respondents believe the work they do is important and 99 percent are willing to put in extra effort to get a job done. On the flip side, only 42 percent are satisfied with the training they’ve received for their present job – a 5 percent drop from last year."

Here's how Ms. Richardson summed up the 2011 rankings:

* The NPS ranks 163 out of 224 agencies, a 4.3% decrease from 2010;

* For context, there was a governmentwide decline of 1.5% and DOI decline of 3.7%

* OPM survey administered to a random sample of employees from all federal agencies and should be viewed as interim assessment for the all employee survey in Spring 2012

* NPS has taken specific actions to address employee concerns since 2008 but trend is still declining

* Targeted action by NPS leadership can have a significant impact on improving the NPS ranking:

-- A 5 point increase would rank NPS in the top 100 federal agencies

-- A 10 point increase would rank NPS in the top 30 federal agencies

-- A 16 point increase would rank NPS in the top ten federal agencies

-- Actions need to occur in high impact areas as identified in the survey, primarily in the leadership subcomponent.

Looking at historically low scores and recent declines, the following specific actions are recommended for fostering change:

* NPS strengths in support of the mission should be sustained and leveraged.

* Senior leadership should fully engage and champion employee engagement:

-- Strengthen internal communication, personally engage in employee feedback activities, and initiate priority actions.

-- Establish performance measures around employee engagement and hold leaders, supervisors, and managers accountable to them.

* Supervisors and managers should be held accountable for effective leadership attributes and actions: 

-- Require individual development plans (IDPs) for every employee.

-- Ensure supervisors are receiving both mandatory training and continuing education.

-- Ensure regular and meaningful performance discussions. Utilize the performance and development discussion guide.

-- Improve recognition practices as identified in the award and recognition guidelines.

* Training offices and supervisors should work closely to ensure a full complement of development and training is available to employees:

-- Require first 40 supervisory training within first quarter of new supervisor's tenure.

-- Ensure that employee IDPs are used as a developmental tool, and as a means for establishing regular, ongoing dialogue about employee and organizational needs.

* NPS inclusion and diversity workforce strategy needs to be committed to and fully implemented:

-- Cultural assessment gets high visibility and support as baseline for cultural change

-- Cultural competencies training is deployed Servicewide.

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I've always wondered about these 'surveys'.  I'm a recent federal retiree (not NPS) w/over 33 years of service and my former agency routinely ranked in the top 10.  It was a constant surprise to the employees to read 'our' answers to the survey questions, which management then used to tell us how happy we were & pat themselves on the back & give themselves big cash awards for 'effective management'.  At least it appears that the NPS may have used their people's 'real' answers!   
If these rankings are true, my admiration for NPS employees has just gone up another notch.  I've always been treated professionally and courteously by NPS personnel. 

We seriously doubt there is much evidence of integrity among the NPS High
Command. After experiencing gross incompetence by key division Chiefs
supposedly directing Interpretation and Natural Resources, their focus was
clearly on promotion bonus dollars while demonstrating little interest and no
passion for solving resource challenges or communicating with the tax-payer-visitors
the true value of park resources.  NPS continues to promote the wrong persons into key
positions who then homestead those roles sometimes for decades.  Now, we
can better understand why the US Postal Service is failing and bascially bankrupt.

I agree Anon but there are many below those levels you mentioned that would be greatly relieved and enriched along with the public they serve if/when the culture changes for the better.  Homestead is a good term for many but then again some are just playing the cards that are dealt and keep their heads down. 

The NPS politically correct response and the spin put on the
results of this survey is one of many reasons NPS employees are disgusted with its
leadership – they lie, misrepresent and refuse to take responsibility for the
loss of agency excellence.  With all the advantages of having a national
park workplace and a dedicated, mission focused workforce, the NPS continues to
fail in leadership.  The NPS spin put on the survey suggests that it was a
lack of access to training that was the cause of the poor performance, implying
a lack of fiscal resources is responsible for the continued agency decline.
 However, the NPS did not mention that the NPS ranked an abysmal 204th in
“effective leadership” and a stunning 217th in
“teamwork.” What agency needs teamwork and effective leadership more than the
National Park Service? For decades, the NPS
had been at or near the top in annual surveys and studies of the best-run
federal agencies. During those years, other agencies use to complain that the
NPS had inherent advantages:  the parks;
the vacationing taxpayers, the mission, the support of the public, etc.  However, now that the agency is failing with
these advantages, the NPS blames it on training, neglecting to mention that their
own employees rated the agency as failing in several categories of leadership.  It amazes me that the NPS refuses to
acknowledge this result; instead they try to spin the results.  Get this, these are the top three agencies:
1) Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2) Nuclear Regulatory Commission and
3) Government Accountability Office.  Can
you believe it?  We all know that NPS
management and leadership is awful, but until they recognize the problem, there
can be no work on creating a solution.  In
case they are listening, here is a clue: 
the foundation of quality leadership is built upon integrity and ethical
responsibility.  Leaders must create,
maintain and embrace agency values – and dramatically demonstrate a willingness
to fight for our identity, mission and purpose. 
Leaders must demonstrate courage, selfless service and model the values
that they espouse.  The reason NPS
employees cite a failure of leadership, is because the failing is so obvious.  In the case of NPS leadership, you are your

Dear Disgusted:  you've captured it brilliantly, thank you.  Unfortunately, our leader has surrounded himself with "yes" men and will be unable to understand that the willingness to fight for our identity, mission, and purpose trump career aspirations. 

Budget cuts affect all Federal Agencies across the board.  Why is the NPS slipping in ranking with respect to the other agencies?  What is contributing to the growing morale gap between the rank and file NPS'er and upper NPS management?  Richard T., what will it take to change the internal NPS culture "for the better?"

Excellent questions, Owen!    I'll pay them full tribute by thinking on them a bit more before I reply.

Owen, looking at the leanings of those that have been directing the NPS which is sure to bring on a conversation is that it appears that "most" everyone that should share the responsibility for the state of things good or bad (throughout the agency) are left of center.  Is that statement arguable?  Probably not particularly pleasing to hear.  Is that not a fact?  This is an important first step.  I'm not in the mood for someone just to explain things away.  Yes or no and I'll move on to the next step without bringing up afiliations again.

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