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A View From the Overlook: “How Do You Get A Permanent Job With The NPS?”
“How Do You Get A Permanent Job With The NPS?”
This is a frequently asked question, neighbors! If the National Parks are “America’s Best Idea,” then it logically follows that the agency that services the National Parks, that is, The National Park Service, is the best damn bureaucracy in the world, and (therefore) NPS rangers, including myself, are the best damn bureaucrats in the world. (There is a flaw in logic in there somewhere, but you get the drift.)
Everyone enjoys basking in the reflected glory of an elite organization; this is one of the many reasons for the popularity of both the National Park Service and the U.S. Marine Corps. (Admittedly, the Marine Corps is easier to get into.)
Another reason for NPS employment popularity is Positive Feedback: People actually like you and like what you’re doing. Many of the federal agencies are regulatory, which means you have an established Enemies List, people that hate you automatically, even before you arrive at work at eight in the morning. Not so in the case of the NPS (except for Tea Party fanatics!)
Consider the Internal Revenue Service. Have you ever wondered why the IRS does not have a “Junior IRS Agent” program similar to the Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program, in which aspiring juvenile IRS agents could conduct mock audits of the neighbors? No? I thought not. The same is true of the CIA.
A third reason for NPS job popularity is the physical setting.“Vignettes of Primeval America, at the point of European contact: Towering trees! Thundering waterfalls! Limitless vistas!"
No doubt about it, friends, the NPS is a feel-good agency that many people would like to join, and they are not easily dissuaded.
Recall the last cocktail party you attended. After the host has introduced you as a retired or active member of the NPS, you will be asked two questions: (A) “What is your favorite bear story? (Pretty difficult if you were at Statue of Liberty), and (B) "How can my (son, daughter, grandchild) get a job with the NPS?”
Now the answer to question B is complicated, ambiguous and fluid.
You might like to hedge, particularly if you are feeling a tad malicious.
“Do you want your child to be happy?” you might solemnly inquire.
The answer will, of course, be “Yes! Yes!” (America being the first country to be founded on the “Pursuit of Happiness" as a goal.)
“Then,” you reply, “Your child should get a job as a Federal Prison Guard.”
Your questioner will be appalled.
No, you have not taken leave of your senses due to Sequestration Frustration; you are merely alluding to a famous yearly study by The Partnership for Public Service in which they ranked the various federal agencies as “The Best Places to Work.”
Now the NPS has never done particularly well in this survey, landing somewhere in the low middle. One notable year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons was found to be a happier place to work than the NPS.Why is this the case?
Actually, it is an unfair comparison. You see, there is a difference in expectations.
A person who applies for a job as a prison guard has rather low expectation of approval by the clientele he serves. Most federal prisons are located in rural, low rent areas with few permanent jobs. Our prison guard candidate will be looking for a favorable retirement and medical package rather than Spiritual Fulfillment. In addition, he/she will be pleasantly surprised that they were not murdered the first day on the job. Every day after that is an improvement.
The NPS seasonal acolyte, on the other hand, has high expectations. If only he/she can enter the Nirvana of permanent employment in “The best job in the world,” our Newbie expects 30 years of blissful contentment. What they fail to realize is that the National Parks are not administered by “towering trees or thundering waterfalls,” or even by a John Muir clone, but by rather fallible and ordinary human beings. There will be difficulties and frustrations.
When approached by young men or women desiring a career in the National Park Service, Roger Siglin, former Chief Ranger of Yellowstone and Superintendent of Gates of Arctic National Park, would ask, “What is your second choice for a lifetime career?” They rarely had one. One should have a back-up plan, unless one is wearing a suicide vest.
“Yes, I know that!” our acolyte exclaims irritably. “I understand that the NPS has some serious personnel management problems, but I am different! Once I become permanent, I will reform the organization from top to bottom (WASO is clearly shaking in its boots!), BUT FIRST I NEED TO GET A PERMANENT JOB WITH THE NPS!”
Thereupon hangs many a frustration, neighbors! There are many rumors abounding that “One must know someone” before the Holy Grail of a permanent position can be grasped, or that certain jobs are “wired” for certain individuals or certain minority groups.
“Outsiders,” those brave, noble souls who are not part of the “Conspiracy,” are condemned to wander forevermore in the Twilight Zone of seasonal employment or working for free as a volunteer. Since the NPS is one of the more gossipy agencies of the Federal Government, rumors abound. Some of them are true.
It is true there is malfeasance and corruption in the obtaining of government jobs, but less so than in the rip-roaring, wide-open period after the Civil War known as the Gilded Age, when everything seemed for sale, even if seller didn’t own it. Federal jobs were just some of the merchandise available. People worked for political parties and voted for candidates not because they were interested in Good Government and Progress, but because they wanted the postmaster’s job in their town or the lighthouse tender’s job, or wanted to be the lucky chap that handed out land to railroads.
This was called Patronage, and constituted a venality tax on just about everyone as the wheels of government ground slower and slower. The various presidents of the Gilded Age may not have been personally corrupt, but many of their appointees certainly were, and the country was shot through with graft from top to bottom.
How were we to get out of the Civil Service corruption trap that even today bedevils most of the poverty stricken countries of the Third World?
“If in doubt, ask a ranger!" So, I asked Ranger Todd Arrington of James Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio to clear things up for us. You see, in addition to being in charge of the tallest tree and tallest mountain in America, the National Park Service is in charge of American history. If you are interested in the history of the light bulb, you contact Thomas Edison National Historic Site; if you are interested in Civil Service corruption, you contact James Garfield National Historic Site. It seems that President Garfield died for our sins.
Here is what Ranger Todd had to say:
“…Civil Service Reform was something that was awaiting James A. Garfield when he became President in 1881. Garfield was inclined to agree that some reform to the civil service system was necessary to get rid of patronage and replace it with a merit-based system in which only qualified candidates who passed exams could receive appointments to federal positions. However, Garfield became much more adamant about this need after his election to the presidency, when he was almost immediately bombarded by letters and visits from people seeking jobs. Very few of these individuals had any real qualifications for the positions they sought and to which they felt entitled simply because they were Republicans or knew someone who knew a Congressman, etc.
This continued after Garfield’s inauguration when he unhappily spent hours each day receiving job seekers. One of those who tried to convince Garfield to appoint him to a position (American Consul to Paris) was Charles J. Guiteau, a mentally unbalanced stalwart Republican who had given a meandering, unimportant speech promoting Garfield in New York and wanted to be rewarded for it.
Guiteau didn’t get the job, and he soon grew concerned about Garfield’s intention to replace the patronage system with a merit system, as the new president engaged in a very public battle with New York’s Senator Roscoe Conkling over who would be appointed to the most prestigious and lucrative patronage job in the country: Collector of the Port of New York.
Charles Guiteau eventually decided the best way to handle this was to murder President Garfield so that Vice President Chester A. Arthur, a New Yorker and Conkling acolyte, would be elevated to the presidency.
Guiteau shot Garfield on July 2, 1881; the wounded President lingered until September 19.Vice President Arthur then became the new president and, to his credit, immediately distanced himself from Conkling. It was President Arthur who signed the Pendleton Act on January 16, 1883. That law reformed the Civil Service, as Garfield had desired, by instituting exams and qualification requirements for those seeking federal jobs. This was the beginning of the end for the patronage system.”
Thank you, Dr. Arrington. You will note that Todd said that it was the beginning of the end, not the end of patronage.
Do we still have Patronage? Sure do, neighbors! Even in the National Park Service? Yup! These are called Schedule C jobs and are awarded to deserving, helpful people by the political party that won the last election. This is sort of a sanitized, “Living History” patronage relic of the Gilded Age, as the Schedule C jobs are relatively few in number and mainly deal with policy. (Nothing secret, neighbors! The Schedule C jobs are listed in a handy little book produced by the US Government Printing Office. It is called “The Plum Book” because, among other things, it has a purple plum colored cover. (Who says the Federal government has no sense of humor?)
But what of our original question: lacking patronage, how DO you get a permanent job with the National Park Service?
Again, James Garfield National Historical Site was most helpful. According to Ranger Arrington:
“Jobs with the federal government, both permanent and temporary, as well as paid internships, are advertised on www.usajobs.gov).">USA JOBS. You may search by the type of job you are interested in and the agency. National Park Service jobs are found under the Department of Interior. Be sure to read the announcement very carefully to determine what documents you will need to submit. On-line submittal of your application is preferred.”
Now is there any other way? (Aside from that of Charles Guiteau).
Well, yes, neighbors, at least for the protection ranger (law enforcement) there is something known as the Pro Ranger Program.
You see, the NPS, along with the rest of the Department of Interior, has a “Diversity” problem. That is, the Department of Interior is the “Whitest” of all the Federal Departments. (It is also regarded by some as the most corrupt, but any cause-and-effect correlation could be interpreted as racist.)
Anyway, how to solve the Diversity problem? Rather than trying to recruit graduates, it was decided to seek colleges with large minority populations and set up a program to steer undergraduates to a guaranteed career in NPS law enforcement.
Undoubtedly, there will be (or are) more colleges, but the ones that show up on Google are Temple University in Philadelphia and the very enterprising San Antonio College, a two-year community college in San Antonio, Texas.
According to the Temple blurb: “Upon graduation from Temple University and successfully completing the Pro Ranger Philadelphia Program, participants are placed in a permanent career tenured law enforcement park ranger position with the National Park Service.”
San Antonio College says, “Rather than recruit or find the next generation of NPS law enforcement rangers, the Pro Ranger Program is a proactive approach to creating them.”
So, neighbors, I guess where your child goes depends on whether he likes Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches or Mexican food!