A View From the Overlook: “How Do You Get A Permanent Job With The NPS?”

A ranger's job, and how to get one, have both changed quite a bit since these ranger's posed for a photo at Mt. Rainier in the 1930s. NPS photo.

“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.

Alternate Text
President James Garfield supported major changes in hiring practices for federal jobs in the 1880s. Library of Congress photo.

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!

Comments

I really don't know what the best way to go about it is. PEER seems very good at bringing hidden things to light, but most of the what we're talking about here is right out in the open, it is just that nobody with the power to do anything cares. It is a difficult subject to explain to the public. Government personnel rules are esoteric, to say the least, and it is hard to get past the perception that every federal employee has fat, unsustainable benefits. The NFFE is at least lobbying Congress on behalf of FS seasonals, but without management on board I can't see anything happening. The NPS is mostly non unionized, and any attempt to change that would have to come from the permanent employees. Seasonals and terms would be dropped in a heartbeat if it was suspected they were trying to bring in a union. There really is nobody who speaks for the seasonals. Permanents have the MSPB, veterans have various powerful organizations, minorities have senior management, we don't have anyone. Maybe some kind of independent board to investigate abuses at all the land management agencies would help, maybe it would just be co-opted

The way I see it there are two separate but related issues: Using seasonals for what should be permanent work, and how people are selected for what permanent jobs are being filled. I think that the second will be much easier to fix if it is separated from the first, and fixing it would take some of the sting out of the first.

With the first issue, as perpetual seasonal points out, the NPS is blatantly violating the spirit and letter of the law at just about every turn. Every year they go through more extreme contortions to avoid paying for benefits, and to avoid committing to the individuals who they have doing the work. One scam is closed off and another opens up. I think it is obvious to everyone that what is going on is illegal, but I don't see how it will change. There is just no way to afford to follow the law without either a major reduction in services, or a dramatic refocusing of the NPS toward the parks themselves. I don't think a change in focus could be accomplished without completely new national leadership and some kind of targeted RIF. The public won't stand for the first option, and the bureaucracy won't stand for the second.

The second issue I think is slightly more fixable. Status for seasonals could be had with congressional action at no cost. Failing that, managers need to remember that they are breaking the law, and that they and the agency are benefiting from that. The person who is losing is the seasonal doing a permanent's job. Management should realize that if they were following the law, that person would have status, and when permanent jobs do come open, particularly when it is the exact job that seasonal has been doing, they need to do whatever it takes to hire that person. There is always a way to hire who you want. All non competitive hiring can be said to be cronyism. There is just ethical cronyism, where you are working the system to hire someone who you know will be good at the job and who has earned it, and unethical cronyism, where you are working the system to hire a family friend, a woman you want to sleep with, or a member of whatever class of people is currently fashionable with your bosses. Unfortunately the unethical cronyism is too common in the NPS these days. I think that if word came down from WASO that managers would get just as many pats on the head for hiring existing seasonals into permanent jobs as they do for hiring minorities, things would change pretty rapidly.

I agree that efforts should be made to promote diversity, but really, those efforts should be focused on encouraging minorities to apply to entry level positions, rather than working around the merit system in order to hire them into permanent jobs. If the barrier between seasonal and permanent employment were removed, minorities could apply for entry level jobs and work their way up. It would take a little longer, but it would be more thorough and productive. We would end up with better employees than those who were just installed into higher positions, and we wouldn't have the bitterness that the current efforts are causing.

I guess that's the last of my two cents.

On the 7th day, God rested, but in my 8th year as a Seasonal/WAE, after three years spent just tryiing to get on seasonal, I went to BLM for a permanent position. Corps of Engineers and others, also offer opportunities. BTW, many of the post-getting hired promotions and job opporltunies in those agencies, like Forest Service as well, also go to "who you know", whether nepotism or otherwise. It's the way private industry works too, so don't panic or complain so much.

Something PJ didn't mention, and I haven't noted yet is that the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 also authorized conversion of up to 25% of Schedule C's to be converted to PERMANENT Civil Service. This crammed the top levels, not the entry levels, with a good many incompetents as "leaders", and they couldn't be booted, or gone with an admiinistration as before.

I also lost over 13 jobs and "promotions" to "Affirmative Action" over the years, despite my 5 point vet status (and yes, that did put me over 100 on the FSEE) but that can also get into a can of worms. Which, my son is now a disabled retired "10 point" veteran, but because of his disbilities, rangering isn't in his future, but he's noted that several government jobs, including BLM and one NPS are open to him in other areas. I support vets (I'm also now permanent and total, some things "catch up with you"), but I do get discouraged when vets who served in the states, or non-combat areas, now get signed up for PTSD payments, when they only want money, NOT treatement for whatever condition. That carries over into the job market as well, even vets SHOULD have some qualifications to do the jobs they're applying for, so giving credit for service, but being truly fair to all, remains a problematic situation.

But, the road into NPS may be a route people didn't plan on, and like my experience, may end up with a satisfying career that wasn't exactly what you planned on as a seasonal, in another agency, doing much the same work, but maybe without as much "prestige"?

willj, I love reading your posts. It is so gratifying to see others who get it. I support H.R. 533 the bill that would allow for long time seasonal employees of land management agencies to be appointed non-competitively to permanent positions but I don't think that bill would be a cure all.

You will still have the problem of positions being kept temporary even though it is just two people splitting the same work, and as is becoming more common, you'll have them using what they call "internships" so they can avoid the cost of benefits. The bill would do nothing to correct the problem of the leadership gaming the system to hire people for reasons that have nothing to do with their abilities. The agency has proven itself incapable of following the laws against misusing temporary appointments. So I think the final solution may be to cut out all the game playing and make it the law that ALL federal employees be covered by the same benefits package no matter their status be it term, temporary or whatever. Turnover, low morale, lack of experience and the hassle of the musical chairs approach to staffing has a cost as well that this action would save.

Or, the less preferable option, but still better than the status quo, would be to cut benefits all together from some employees. I know I would have gladly gone without insurance in exchange for steady work doing the job I love. (and that I've been told I'm damm good at by people some of you know)

Either the actions of the agency will be brought into line with the law or the law will be brought into line with their actions. The two can't keep going in different directions. The situation as it is, is not sustainable. Either congress will act; lawsuits will compel the NPS to reform itself, or a growing public awareness through media exposure will embarrass those with power into doing the right thing.

BTW, Rick Smith, I'm still waiting to hear about how you'd have liked to have seen your first permanent job go to someone fresh out of school after your 11 seasons?

It did although not to a first year student but to someone who had spent little time in the Service. I was taking my final exams for my MA and could not make Albright on the date they specified.

Rick

I guess I'm not done.

Dtroutma: “It's the way private industry works too, so don't panic or complain so much.” I've worked a lot of winters in the private sector, and yes, there is personal favoritism and nepotism. There are a couple important differences between the public and private sectors though. 1st, if a private business wants to hire a less effective worker for any reason, they absolutely have that right. An NPS manager, on the other hand, is an employee of the American people, and has a responsibility to hire the best person for the job. 2nd, if a private business consistently uses factors other than employee quality to decide who to hire or promote, productivity will suffer, they will lose money, and eventually they will fold. The individual NPS manager has no such incentive to hire good people. The taxpayers will continue to fund them no matter how badly they fail. There does not seem to be any meaningful accountability for management, and even if there were, a good bureaucrat can easily diffuse responsibility for his failures to the point where nobody is blamed for them. I do think that if the NPS continues down the path it is on, it will eventually lose credibility with the public and its constant crying for more money will not be taken seriously anymore.

Perpetual seasonal: I don't think that the land management agencies will ever be able to give everyone the benefits package they currently give to their permanent employees. It is just too expensive. The work we do is labor intensive, not easily done by machines, and labor costs have to be kept down. If we are to start theorizing about a better way to do things, I think a system would work well where everyone is eligible for benefits, with new employees, permanent or seasonal, paying most of the cost out of pocket, and the NPS picking up a larger percentage with years of service. That would at least reduce the extreme cost gradient between seasonal and permanent employees. This is an interesting article on the subject: http://www.economist.com/node/21548234. It is talking specifically about European labor law, but explains how when there are two classes of employees with such sharply different benefits, the short term incentive is to do whatever it takes to keep people in the cheaper class even if it does more damage in the long term. The federal government, which doesn't have the day to day revenue and expense pressures of private business, should be able to think about the long term

I also think that it needs to be easier to fire permanent employees. For all the talking I've done about the importance of retaining good employees, I think that even more cost and productivity savings could be had by firing the bad ones. They not only don't do their own jobs, they actively undermine their coworkers and cause an incredible amount of strife and dysfunction. It is easier to commit to a good employee if you know you can get rid of them later if they turn bad. My reservations come from the fact that the more discretion you give managers, the more important it is to have good ones. The ones I know now would probably use any expedited firing authority to remove their better employees, who they regard as troublemakers, and replace them with yes men.

So ultimately the most important thing is to raise the quality of management. Current NPS culture doesn't select for independence, guts, and integrity. It selects for keeping your head down, kissing ass, prioritizing perception over reality, and not worrying too much about whether things get done. It is sad, and I don't really know what to do about it.

Well willj, I think your post is a little pessimistic, but the issue of the seasonal employee is important. I am no expert, but I encourage you to read "Intern Nation". Many of the issues you raise are well documented in other agencies and in the private sector. I do not know if PEER would take on an issue like this, ie a class action suit, but I think if you have a constructive approach in contacting them, you might get some very good information. It is disconcerting to think that we are at a point where the lower graded employees, part time, seasonal, intern, are being made to pay the price of our current economic malaise, particularly when corporate profits, the stock market, high end management pay and bonus rewards are at all time record highs. It is happening more and more in all entry or lower graded positions, ie, minimum wage, limited hours, limited or no benefits, etc. I was in my excellent local supermarket the other day, I usually go there as I thought they had a good pay plan and benefits for their employees, even though their prices are higher than their competitors. I was informed that every employee in the store is part time, except designated management personnel. This should not be the case, I encourage you and the other less than full time employees to get expert advice, PEER might be a good place to start. Thanks to both you and perpetual seasonal for openly discussing this important issue.

In regard to the article

The National Park Service does regulate. It regulates how visitors to a park can use that resource, which is why Law Enforcement Rangers and the Unites States Park Police exist. There are plenty of people, other than Tea Party fanatics, who do automatically hate NPS employees. There are certain locales where all uniformed park rangers are hated by many individuals of that locale because of the park service’s role of protecting natural areas and stopping those locals from using the land for whatever recreation purpose they wish to use it for. A hatred which goes as far as the employees of those parks being recommended, by their supervisors, not to wear their uniform outside of the park, and where park employees are even refused service in certain restaurants.

And one should beware of making assumptions based on a group’s political values and beliefs, and beware of assuming that certain people are going to automatically hate uniformed employees of a certain federal department. And while it may be easier to be accepted as a Marine Corps candidate, it is certainly not easier to complete the process of becoming a Marine. And the Marine Corps does drug test so that would ‘weed out’ a considerable percentage of those who currently are working for the park service.

In regard to comments

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination based on religion, national origin, race, color, or sex. The definition of discrimination is: to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit.

The purpose of ending discrimination is that a person’s race, sex, etc. is not relevant. To say, to improve our workforce, we should hire the candidate of color if experience levels are the same, is discrimination. There are no two persons with the same experience level. One person or the other has attended at least one more class or has one more day on a job than the other person, which makes one person or the other more experienced.

In a previous comment, it is stated; “Check the DOI and NPS demographics' numbers. It has not changed much for decades and even when the numbers increase in some categories, the white male and female still reign supreme (over their % of the US population). This demonstrates we still have a long way to go to make our beloved NPS more relevant.”

I consider stating that whites ‘reign supreme’ to be a type of ‘speak’ used to try and vilify whites. I find it very disturbing that a retired superintendent thinks whites need to be reduced in numbers to make the NPS more relevant. If people in this nation cannot see that it does not matter what color you are, and a retired superintendent does not realize that it does not matter if a park ranger is black, white, brown, red, or yellow, then yes, we do have a long way to go.

If you think being faced with "hostile locals" as an NPS employee, try being with BLM as a Wilderness Specialist, Environmental Coordinator (enforcing resrictions), and otherwise "reining in" abuse by those users. I live where I do because the town is "conservative", but the vast majority of folks are friendly, and accept that the Public Lands are what provide the jobs, and pay the bills. I've had numerous "incidents" with less friendly locals, and in other towns around the west, where the welfare ranchers (think Sagebrush Rebellion) will attack you at the drop of a hat. This has included on the extreme end, which end I would insert a rancher's rifle in if he didn't put it away.

I tire of hearing how "private sector" has to be more discretionary because they have to make a profit. This is extremely so when discussing "private sector" corporations that almost exclusively depend on government largesse, or contracts. My brother always cussed "the government", earned 7-10 times as much as I did, and never worked anything but a government contract in his entire career in aerospace and "defense". He also routinely complained what jerks he worked for, and when administering contracts himself, complained if the subcontractor was paying their folks what he considered should be HIS BONUS! Getting into folks like "Mickey D's", or Walmart, is even more egregious. I shop Costco not just for the prices, but because they DO take care of their employees, and thus THAT is what makes their employees perform better!

Sorry, neuropathy, done typing, and enough for now, but could go to other areas relative to the article as well...

Doug, excellent post, thanks. Yes I try to frequent Costco also.

I think it is interesting to note that a quote posted here a few days ago and attributed to a "former senior manager" was actually written by NPS Director Jon Jarvis's brother Destry Jarvis. That seems to give it a bit more weight and maybe explains why these days the organization seems to have such a disdain for job seekers with high levels of experience and qualifications --speculation I know.

Here is the quote:

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/parklandsupdate/destry/parklandsupdate/c9JtjyMLXko/Y3iCt6E8lZ8J

"I think it is high time to re-consider the whole "seasonal hiring" program. As some have indicated, it's too easy to ignore or exploit them, and current law does not really allow them to be perceived as an easily accessed recruitment pool, even when there are vacancies. Instead, with a few exceptions (such as folks with prior law enforcement experience and teachers who serve as senior interpreters)I would scrap the whole seasonal program and replace it with "interns" (e.g. such as SCA Resource Assistants) signed up under the Public Land Corps Act authority. In most cases they can be, and often already are, the same people NPS has hired historically - college students or recent graduates with degrees in relevant fields, or veterans of conservation corps work crews with good hand skills. But, unlike seasonals, PLCA interns can access non-competivie hiring authority into federal service, and come in at about half the price of a seasonal, so the Service can either save money or hire twice as many"

Thanks for another great column, PJ ! Your humorous take on the NPS, warts and all, is so refreshing compared to the Dudley Dooright myth peddled by DC. Thanks also for the many thoughtful comments, folks.

Here at Mount Rainier, many locals more or less agree with park preservation mandates, even policies, but might be considered 'hostile' because of their experience of decades of nepotism & cronyism in NPS hiring, contracts, and concessions. An almost complete lack of financial transparency and increasing staff while reducing access and services last year has not won many local friends, either. NPS management and the old guard are truly out of touch if they think all critics are just resource-hungry rednecks. My experience has been that many locals know their parks far, far better than the 'itinerant manager class' of the NPS ( thanks for that great phrase, willj).

Gus, hiring monkey-business was common in NW parks during my career. My first NPS job came as a last-minute replacement for Watergate figure John Ehlichman's son. My roommate's dad ran the Texas border patrol. I was hired as a seasonal laborer, despite being only on the seasonal ranger register. Well into the nineties, Olympic Maintenance supervisors avoided perceived problem veterans and hired each other's friends and relatives as seasonals using um, poorly-advertised 'Student' hiring authorites.

I know it's not technically nepotism, but it sure has the appearance of conflict of interest when Director Jarvis' brother is a concession lobbyist, especially given all the suggestions of favoritism in that aspect of NPS management recently:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/01/convulsion-national-park-concessions24457

Willj makes many good points, but I must especially second those regarding the skill repository of long-term seasonals and bottom-of-the-totem-pole 'Subject-to-Furlough permanents. We used saws and explosives, and ran helitac operations, where one could make mistakes you wouldn't live long enough to learn from. The real irreplaceable contribution of long-term seasonals was in training new seasonals, both formally at orientation, and more importantly, on the job. The hardest and most dangerous thing I ever had to do was run 'Hoods In The Woods' type programs where under-equipped, untrained, undiscliplined 'social engineering' labor was dumped on Wilderness trails with almost no planning, realistic goals, or training, for the youths or me. The proposal to substitute volunteers and interns in lieu of retaining and promoting experienced staff is a terrible one, IMO, even for the less-dangerous public contact jobs.

I'd add Naturalist to Owen's list of permanent NPS employees a visitor is increasingly unlikely to encounter. I was amazed to learn most Parks Canada staff, including the SAR supervisor and even the superintendent, spent regularly scheduled time at their information desks. Just what the NPS brass needs to keep it real and adjust their priorities.

Well, PJ has done it again -- terrific article, as always. Owen just sent a note that this discussion was happening so I'll weigh in. I've been a seasonal for 43 years so have some insights. I'm also one of the founding members of the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. When we published our first newsletter in 1985, one of our goals was to create a clear path from seasonal to permanent. I wrote in that article that the current system was a "Byzantine nightmare." Shamefully, absolutely nothing has changed today. Of the goals we had then (LE retirement and better equipment and training for LE rangers) it's the only one that has not been achieved.

I have to admit I'm strangely sympathetic to the proranger program, though it appears to be both flailing and failing because students are dropping out or not passing FLETC (though neither is at all clear. That's from rumor & anecdotal evidence only). If that is the case, it'll fail on its own. But, I have found the current system so outrageously unfair to everyone -- experienced seasonal rangers, minorities & etc. that if anyone can find any way to get through the gauntlet and get a permanent job, I have no problem with it.

Is the pro ranger program any worse as a way to get in than taking a job at another federal agency only to get status, quit that job (that someone spent a lot of time and energy writing up and interviewing people)? Or, as in the old days, getting a job as a clerk-typist? No question it's insulting to very qualified and proven seasonals who have jumped through what they see as the accepted hoops, but we shouldn't get mad at the proranger program or those going through it. It's the NPS, and we – seasonals and permanent alike – let them get away with it year after year.

The seasonal NPS ranger system is unconscionably exploitive of the love and dedication we bring to our work. This is a feature, not a bug. We pay for our own initial training (EMS and LE); work at very low pay; are too often treated with disdain by our permanent betters; have no right to a rehire, only “preference”; get no step increases for time in service and no health insurance. And, this just in, WON'T be provided health insurance under the ACA because we're part-time. THAT is an absolute outrage, yet absolutely no one seems to care.

In all of my years, I have known only one or two permanent rangers who were strong advocates for seasonals and made even the slightest attempt to change this system. Not to be discouraging, but after trying to bring attention to this issue over the years, I often despair of a solution. The NPS is right there with WalMart or McDonald’s in how they treat employees.

And, along with my colleague Perpetual Ranger, I also wonder where ANPR and the retirees have been all these years. I -- a seasonal -- wrote and advocated extensively for 6(c) retirement but have not seen that same concern for an obvious injustice returned.

George Durkee
(Also, these comments don't necessarily reflect those of the Ranger Lodge. Just me with a word processor warmed in heck...).

It is very interesting that the PLCA intern quote came from Destry Jarvis. A “former senior manager” could be someone with no current influence on policy. The opinions of the director's brother, on the other hand, could be assumed to influence or reflect the those of the director himself. Rick, I'm curious why you chose to attribute the quote the way you did. It comes close to lying by omission. I'm also curious why nobody on your listserv brought up what a truly awful idea it actually is. Do you folks really think that it would not be so bad to remove thousands of experienced staff and replace them with college age volunteers, most of whom would turn over every year? Or do you just not want to call out someone who is so high on the food chain? Whichever it is, it is disheartening, and I think indicative of the problems in NPS management.

Rick, I would also still like to know why you don't think changing the law to give seasonals status after a few years would help.

If the seasonal gig is so bad (low pay, low respect, poor chances of advancement), then why do people keep going back? Is it because the job is that rewarding, or is it because there's no good job alternatives?

Zebulon:

I'd put rewarding at the top of the list. In my case, I'm a backcountry ranger and, with my wife, live in the backcountry for 3 to 4 months of the year. My only contact with a supervisor is occasionally by radio and a couple of visits per season. A bit unusual even for NPS, so maybe not representative. But many of the frontcountry rangers have, to me, equally great jobs. Law enforcement rangers, for instance, can deal with a huge variety of situations: law enforcement, emergency medical services, search and rescue, fire, getting to talk about, say, Giant Sequoias and critters with a variety of visitors from all over the world -- every day is different and challenging. On a day to day operational level, rangers also have quite a bit of discretion and independence of action in handling not only individual incidents, but what they'll do during the day. For people who like challenges, huge responsibilities and adrenaline, it's an outstanding job.

Three friends of mine are leaving this year after a collective 50 years of experience. Two have kids and just can't support a family on the seasonal income -- the spouse almost always give up a 2nd job because there are rarely any others in the park. The last few years have seen a severe cut in the length of our season and overtime allowed until it's reached a level where you just can't make even a minimal living.

The NPS, seemingly, is willing to tolerate turnover of rangers -- and the hiring and training costs associated with getting new ones -- rather than a policy of retention by improving salary and benefits.

Many of the frontcountry rangers stay because supervisors dangle the carrot of the elusive permanent job in front of them "just do this and I'll see if I can get you on full time." Then, ooops, it never materializes.

George

George, I am delighted to see you weigh in on this issue of seasonal employment with the NPS. As I am personally acquainted with you, I can safely say your record as a Park ranger is outstanding. Your 43 years years of service in a very arduous job, very physically demanding, with little direct supervision, and in remote wilderness locations is exceptional. I could go on and and on, but just the safety aspects of your performance over all these years is worth a commendation. I think you have summarized the issues very well and I am concerned that the NPS, and the nation as a whole, has lost the respect for the intelligence, skills, experience of its seasonal/part time workers. I do have a question, did FOP ever try to make contact with a good government citizens activist group, for example PEER? In my own humble opinion, I do not think the normal chain of command route is going to be effective, they are constrained by Congress along with other factors. The issues of part time employment are national in scope, not just pertinent to the NPS. Litigation should always be a last resort, but with the mood of congress, it maybe the only feasible route. I think other part time/ Intern type job situations have been successful in litigation efforts, but I have not researched it. In any case, your service is a classic example of the unfortunate failure of the agency to recognize the contribution you, and many others, have made to our National Parks. I am with you on this issue.

Rmackie. You make a reference to Congress being a roadblock to changing the rules. Could you elaborate? Why would Congress want to make it harder to make a seasonal employee eligible to compete for a full time job?

But then, i can't think of a rational reason anyone would want to put up such a roadblock.

ecbuck, there is no rational reason, it is more of an accident. Seasonal employees are employed under rules which were written for temporary employees, people picked up for a short term, one off job, and who are not considered employees in terms of eligibility for promotions. When the rules were written nobody was thinking about people working year after year, but not year round. The land management agencies have shoehorned their legitimate need for seasonal employees into the existing federal hiring rules. In the absence of congressional action to refine the rules, they have determined that they can hire temporary employees for recurring seasonal jobs, as long as those jobs last less than 6 months in a given year. In practice, this has meant that individual employees are limitted to working 1039 hours (1 hour under 6 months at 40hrs/week), even when the job they are working on is still going. People do this for years, sometimes decades, and are still not considered employees, and not eligible for promotions. There are things congress could to to fix this, but they are a roadblock because they would have to do something, and they get very little done. I don't think that anyone would object to fixing it if it were explained to them, but nobody cares enough to really push it through congress.

willj--

Destry no longer works for the NPS so he is exactly what I called him, "a former senior manager". I don't think there is a legislative fix to this because there will always be someone who doesn't get the job that will see nepotism, bias or favoritism behind the decision.

I am glad to see George weigh in on this discussion. His long seasonal service in Yosemite and Sequoia lends a great deal of credibility to his remarks. He should remember two things, however. From the very beginning, the retirees decided not to get involved in personnel issues. Looking at this thread should tell you why.. And ANPR put a lot of money into lobbying for enhanced retirement for protection rangers. The Lodge, that George mentions, and ANPR, were its two biggest advocates.

Rick

Ron: Thanks for the attaboy. As always, it's outstanding to see you involved.

For others:, Ron has the dubious honor of hiring me for my first backcountry job! Who knew it would turn into this??

And, yes, the Lodge (for others, the Ranger Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police which we organized in the mid 80s for law enforcement rangers) has worked with PEER -- especially during the shutdown. They're a terrific and very helpful organization with contacts we don't have.

Rick: ditto. You're right, of course, on ANPR and Lodge taking lead on retirement. Over the years, Lodge has tried to get ANPR involved more in seasonal and othter issues, but it seems like since the success of the retirement issue, they've moved away from mau-mauing the flak catchers (is that the second time I've used that phrase? Extra credit for anyone who knows its origin!).

Willj -- your comments are spot on. I hope you're younger and can carry on hassling this stuff. Someday it's gotta change.

Incidentally, all those backcountry years and miles have taken a small toll. I trashed my hip a year ago and now haggling with federal worker's comp to get a new one (arthritis). To the great entertainment of everyone, I worked dispatch last summer. So I won't be able to get back to backcountry until a year from now.

George

George--

It's hard to imagine you in dispatch instead on a trail gobbling up the miles with those long legs. Best of luck with worker's comp and may next summer be the best you have ever had in the backcountry. Speaking of hassles, how about trying to get Randy's wife her death benefits? I was proud of you. Thanks for taking that on.

Rick

George, willj, Pertpetual Seasonal, Tahoma, Ron, JT, and Rick, Thank you for contributing to this highly interesting thread of discussion.

George, you are right, some day it just has to change. I hope sooner than later.

I also hope that the injustices involved in virtually dismissing the experience acquired by and responsibilities assigned to longer-term seasonal and volunteer employees eventually will be given appropriate consideration if and when these temporary employees apply for career vacancies with the NPS.

Rick, I do not believe this is just a "personnel issue" affecting a few disgruntled individuals who've been passed over for conversion or promotion. It is a fundamental problem that appears to prevail system-wide. It needs to be addressed and rectified.

As a former seasonal park ranger-naturalist myself and a member of both organizations, I hope ANPR and CNPSR will get involved and make a positive difference. At present, ANPR does have one board member designated to address seasonal issues.

Meanwhile, your collective contributions to PJ's outstanding article shine much needed light into the darkness of this decades-old problem. I imagine that PJ's "View from the Overlook" and this extensive commentary is already attracting quite a large number of readers. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see the total number of comments exceed 100, surpassing previous NPT articles that featured such special interest code words as "guns" and "mountain bikes."

George, thanks so much for entering this discussion. As I read what you wrote about how ANPR and the retirees group have been silent on these issues it occurred to me how they seem to do more to advocate for rangers in foreign countries than they do for rangers in this country. Of course they haven’t taken on these issues because the active membership is heavily weighted to people who have carried out these violations or have relationships; working and otherwise; with those who commit the abuses. I believe the sympathies of those who run these groups are much more on the side of the park manager than with the park ranger. You can see in this forum the imperious attitude reflected in statements to the effect of ‘how dare you lowly seasonals take an interest in, and comment on, the affairs of your betters you are supposed to just stand there smile, be grateful, and pretend not to notice the corruption around you’ For those in ANPR aware there is a problem, they aren’t going to stand up at a meeting and advocate the group do anything about it because to do so would be destructive to their careers. I am a member of ANPR and have been to a few rendezvous. They are fun, and you can learn, and make connections, but the group isn’t anything like a watchdog on the agency --they pretty much are the NPS power structure. It is a private democratically run organization so it has a right to do whatever it wants. Maybe some of us will be able to recruit others in who will able to steer the group in another direction. I think only a couple hundred voted in the last board election so maybe it wouldn’t be too hard to swing it the other way. But as it is they are firmly in the back pocket to the current director. Maybe as people come together to stop pro ranger a new group will be fostered more in line with cleaning up the agency.

I can understand a professional organization not wanting to get involved in individual personnel issues but that is not what this is --we are talking about wide spread system wide abuses directed by or at least with the complicity of those at the very top. The last few years has seen a 1000% increase in the use of 1-2 year temporary hires. These are supposed to be used for things such as when a permanent employee is deployed in the military or is away because of a long term illness. Instead they have been used as a way to keep a site staffed without paying benefits. Would it be too much for the NPS retirees group to issue a statement condemning this practice and calling on hiring officials to adhere to regulations and refuse to certify such appointments? How about maybe a comique from CNPSR calling for the OPM to automatically investigate any park (other than places like Everglades or Death Valley) who is hiring seasonals in the winter. Any park that is employeing seasonals in the summer and winter is likley violating regulations. Is the fear that if audits were done wrong doing might be found? In the next year there will be many who reach the end of their two year limit and will be shown the door and the next creative way to bridge the gap will be put in place. It is a time bomb of discontent the agency has planted in dozens of people. The same goes for all these Pathways “interns” currently being hired. What will be the reaction when they realize there never was much of chance of them being converted to permanent status? What will be the result of the NPS engaging the hopes of so many most of whom will inevitably be disappointed? How tenable will it be for the federal government to keep people going in jobs without health insurance as they impose that mandate of the rest of society?

George, you mentioned what you see as a problem of low pay but for me pay isn’t a problem I always thought it was fair for the work I did. My main requests are simple and not outrageous:

Management needs to simply stop violating regulations. (I worked my first several years in the NPS at one park 12 months a year . Some of those appointments were almost eight months in length. Acceptance of this and the everyone does it attitude in the leadership has to end. One large urban park once kept a group of people working year round for eight years in “temporary” appointments!

Merit needs to once again be considered in hiring. (For the decreasing number of positions still filled through the so-called competitive system old timers may be surprised to learn that after President Obama ordered that KSA essays no longer be used to rate applicants it is all done by a computer. No human really looks at most applications before the get to the selecting official. Candidates are asked to rate themselves. Those who don’t rate themselves as experts on every question stand little chance of being referred. For lower level positions this means there are hundreds of candidates who all tie with perfect scores. You could be someone like George with decades of experience and you could get the same score as an SCA. Or you might be bumped by a veteran or even just be culled from the list at random. I heard lots of stories of people who’ve worked multiple seasons at a park who couldn’t get referred for selection at places they gotten superior performance appraisals. This all puts much more of the hiring process on already over burdened field level supervisors to sort though these hundreds of resumes. . This greater flexibility in hiring might be a good thing for the supervisor who has the time, and is willing, to do the work of evaluating all those candidates but it also opens the door wide for people to get jobs for reasons other than merit.)

Clear and objective standards need to be enforced. One thing I like about the way Resource and Visitor protection is run that there are requirements that can’t be fudged. However in Interpretation things are way too subjective. Too many supervisors care little whether an interp ranger is truly reaching and having an impact on the visitor or are they just getting by. Unfortunately factors such as whether someone is the cousin of the local mayor ; the son of a “park partner” or who they are married to etc. is the most important qualification. Meanwhile people with certification from the NPS Interp Development Program or the National Association for Interpretation go without jobs. Applicants with those credentials should get credit for them and they should be required of supervisers who want to remain in the organization. Similar objective standards should be applied in other disciplines.

Willj said:


There are things congress could to to fix this, but they are a roadblock because they would have to do something, and they get very little done.


There were 72 laws enacted in 2012 big and small and over 70,000 pages added to the Federal Register. Things can get done. Someone doesn't want this done.

Rick, I think you are deliberately being a bit obtuse on this subject. Saying “a former senior manager” to refer to the director's brother in this context is a bit like saying “a former park superintendent” to refer to the director himself. Absolutely true, but not entirely accurate. Anyone should be able to see that those remarks coming from him are much more serious, and ominous for an existing employee, than if they had just come from a retired blowhard trying to express his low regard for seasonal employees, or idly theorizing about different ways of doing things.

About the legislative fix: do you honestly believe that the system is fair or effective when people can work for decades and still be ineligible to apply for higher level positions? If not, what about a proposal to give status to seasonals would not work to fix that? You obviously see things squarely from management's perspective, and that's fine, we need everybody to make a park run. So please tell me: what downside does management see to this proposal? I really want to know. I don't see why they are not falling all over themselves to get status for seasonals. It is much easier to find good employees when you don't disqualify most of your long term field staff from the start. Seems like a no brainer to me.

As others have pointed out, this is more than just a “personnel” issue. This is a systemic problem that is currently one of the most significant barriers to the NPS providing more effective visitor services. It is without doubt an issue that the retirees should get involved in. Who else is going to push it? Any current or former manager who has ever given a permanent job to a status candidate knowing that there was an existing seasonal employee who would do the job better, or who was already doing the job, is honor bound in my opinion to do whatever they can to make status for seasonals a reality.

For the record, I have never been passed over for a permanent job. I've never applied for one. I work in the blue collar side of things, and there aren't many permanent jobs coming up. I don't want to bounce around every couple of years trying to advance, I want to dig into the job I have (which was done by a permanent employee, sometimes two, until I took it) and do it well. I have seen other people passed over in recent years though, and the park is badly suffering for it. Someone on your listserv said that he wished the “angry seasonals” on this thread would give some background on how they got in. I got in because I grew up in the woods and had skills the NPS wanted. I got where I am now because I work hard, I'm very good at what I do, and I've been lucky to have mostly had good supervisors who have looked out for me. I'm very lucky to have got those woods skills early, but I don't think anyone would call my background, or that of any other member of the rural working class, privileged. Really, the privileged people who I see in the NPS, of all races, often come in through the SCA or other volunteer programs that people are always talking up. Poor folks can't always work for free.

Rick: What about this thread tells you that retirees should stay out of this issue? It really should be telling you the opposite.

Just back from a week in Yellowstone and delighted to see this thread continuing in a productive and civil vein.

While I was up there, I got into a discussion with a permanent interpreter in the temporary VC at Mammoth about the state of NPS hiring. It didn't take long before my head was spinning with a bewildering array of various kinds of job classifications, hiring authorities, and other gobbly-gook. A while ago in one of his comments, Ron Mackie made note of "Congressional micromanaging." I know it would be almost impossible to untangle the web, but really wonder if there would be any way to learn how much of this mess is directly due to Congressional micromanagement as they try desperately to keep every special interest group in the world happy.

As I've read the comments here, and listened to those of the rangers I met at Mammoth, I can't help thinking that the NPS situation is a frightening mirror of a much larger, and very dangerous, trend that is growing throughout America. A trend that, if it is allowed to continue, may very well threaten the future welfare of our nation and all who live in it.

That trend, as I see it, is the victimization of the workers who are actually on the ground keeping the country moving and profitable. The "worker bees" if you will. Worker bees whose importance in the economic web are increasingly dismissed by those above. Worker bees who find themselves working part time hours to avoid payment of any benefits. Worker bees whose paychecks are falling farther and farther behind the curve of prosperity. Worker bees who haven't enough income to even think of saving for retirement and who may be only one illness or injury away from disaster -- despite the best intents of ACA.

I, happily, probably won't live to see it happen, but I fear for my grand-daughters and others of the future. I'm very afraid unless corrections are made starting now, a day will come when the nation's economy will simply collapse regardless of whether national debts have been eliminated or whether any of the nonsense now producing Congressional constipation have been alleviated.

When it happens, it won't matter how big a CEO's golden parachute happens to be. Because with no worker bees to support them, the guys as the top will have a long way to fall.

I'm afraid that what's happening now in NPS and other government agencies is just one very small segment of a much larger and very frightening challenge that people in power are managing to propagandize into the far shadows of some back room.

We need to remember that there is an economic ecological web of life that holds all of us and as John Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world." That applies equally to dollars and to field mice.

I applaud your post, Lee as it looks at the bigger picture connecting the world of NPS to the larger world that has always been present. The cultural threats are often not noticed in the micro incrementalist progression. Takes a wake up call. Thanks for your post, Lee.

Dittos Lee.

"If you can't adequately fund it, close it until congress gets heat enough to appropriate the means to manage it".

--George Hartzog (former director USNPS)

I came across this great quote attributed to George Hartzog today. If the NPS leadership still believed this we wouldn't have the epidemic abuse of temp hiring we have today.

As these posts confirm, the many seasonals we have known over the

decades would have been outstanding permanent NPS employees because

they approached their roles with passion for the parks' natural resources and

communicating their values to the visitors. Treating these personalities as

"not worthy" of permanent jobs with benefits only casts a dark shadow upon

the higher level managers' EGO. Of all the people we have known at Crater

Lake N. P. who truly cared about the Lake Ecosystem, several standout:

among them are Doug Larson, visit our Oral History:

http://www.craterlakeinstitute.com/online-library/douglas-larson-oral-history/p1.htm

and Steve Robinson who worked winters in the Everglades; his Tribute follows:

http://www.craterlakeinstitute.com/crater-lake-news/ranger-steve-robinson.htm

A Tribute to Steve Robinson

Ranger Magazine Spring, 2008

By BRIAN CAREY

Chiricahua and Fort Bowie

Webmaster's Note: Steve was a former ranger naturalist at Crater Lake NP.

Most National Park Service seasonals do not arrive at the job site by sailing in from the sea, but that was Steve Robinson’s introduction to Flamingo at the southern terminus of Everglades National Park in December 1979. It was an inauspicious beginning since he was marooned in port after his sailing companion took the motor and jumped ship, advising Steve to find work.

Steve Robinson

A visitor to Flamingo in those years might remember the faded employment available sign that beckoned to wanderers low on cash and prospects. So Steve began his career in Flamingo as a houseman for the concession lodge, mostly because he played guitar. The concession manager also played a four-string tenor guitar and had a vision of the Buttonwood Lounge as a mecca for music and a happening nightlife. Steve, however, could not wait to become a naturalist and strum health into the Everglades. He had his opportunity soon after and began what was to become 25 continuous seasons of service as a park interpreter in one of the nation’s premier biological parks.

As a fourth generation Floridian, Steve was uniquely equipped to know the beauty of the state and the fragile nature of its ecosystems. Childhood photos posted on his memorial website show stringers of bass and bluegill and a west Florida background of oaks, palms and citrus that would all soon yield to the pressures of population growth. Steve was an environmentalist long before it was in vogue. He first showed concern at age 5 when his mom remembers him asking what she was doing about pollution. His passion for sports also manifested itself early, playing on a league-leading, fast-pitch softball team. Steve played guitar in a band, “The Tribesmen,” in Riverview, Florida, and at one time aspired to rock-and-roll fame. Among all of the distractions of youth in East Bay High School in the 1960s, Steve was conscious of the environmental issues of the day. He talked in earnest about Mother Nature to anyone who would listen. Steve canoed the Alafaya River, hunting snook and seining for sharks’ teeth. He contemplated living a life alone in nature. He bought a 24-foot Venture sailboat and set off to rediscover the lost wilderness of his youth, but he was 26 before he first visited the Everglades. A simple twist of fate landed him in Flamingo.

Steve was a provocative interpreter whose passion sometimes made others uncomfortable. In fact, that was one of his mottos for interacting with the world: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. His was a passion and directness that was well respected by new and returning Everglades visitors alike. Unlike many interpretive staff, Steve loved working at the information desk and always drew a crowd with the obvious depth of his knowledge of the resource and the value of his tips for visiting the park. Returning visitors sought him out for updates on the state of affairs at the park, many times asking, “Where is the guy with the beard and the ponytail?” He was commanding. He always drew a crowd. It was easy to get swept up in his idealism, his unwavering vision of a beautiful, natural world.

The musical talents that he and his wife, Amelia Bruno, shared were also a source of inspiration at campfire programs, at interpretive training, and during the Everglades 50th anniversary celebration and innumerable park “coffeehouses.”

Crater Lake visitors were treated to Steve’s same eloquence about the natural and spiritual power of the park’s resources during his seasons as an interpreter and a fire lookout ranger. His dogged determination to improve the safety program for the boat tours of Crater Lake will continue to reap benefits for the park.

Steve’s real legacy will undoubtedly be the many young interpreters he tutored, mentored, inspired and befriended. The pages of his memorial site are scattered with comments like this: “I was an impressionable young seasonal ranger at Flamingo in the late ’80s, and the impression you left on me was one of a person who wasn’t afraid of fighting.” Or “Steve and Amelia . . . you’re the soul of Flamingo. You all have made such a positive difference.” And “Because of your love and your Marjorie-like stubborn determination, I refuse to ever give visitors the impression that the Everglades or the planet is beyond hope.”

Steve died as peacefully as he lived. At 10:25 in the morning on Oc. 1, 2007, Steve looked at Amelia and son Darby and quietly stopped breathing. He had been a partner and soulmate; a patient, loving dad whose heart burst with pride when Darby was born; and an honest, compassionate, fast and true friend. His gifts as a rock-folk guitarist and music teacher brought out the best in everyone. He was an Everglades expert who felt that his mentor, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, had passed the torch to him when she heard him speak at the Anhinga Trail and approved of his message.

Steve’s strength came from times spent in nature. His 24-hour solo sails to Sandy Key were vital to his psyche. He found his life’s worth in being an NPS naturalist.

For the past two years he had remained in Oregon, avoiding hurricanes in Florida and helping his son get established in college. But he was going back this year — a year that needed his voice more than ever, a year when the Everglades is being removed as a World Heritage Site.

For many who remember Florida Bay sunsets, an image will always linger: the silhouette of Steve, standing up in his canoe as it slides across the water under sail, a ghost of the Calusa Indians that also plied these estuarine waters. It’s a fitting image to carry into the future for the countless visitors and NPSers who were helped, inspired and moved by this man and his genuine love for nature.

He wanted to change the world. He succeeded.

Brian Carey is a 27-year veteran of the NPS, currently serving as superintendent of Chiricahua National Monument and Fort Bowie National Historic Site. This article was composed with generous contributions from Amelia Bruno, Steve’s partner and best friend. She is the fee program manager at Crater Lake.

Another well known seasonal employee of the NPS was legendary park ranger-naturalist Dr. Carl W. Sharsmith. Dr. Sharsmith worked approximately 63 seasons wearing the green and grey uniform. Most of his seasons were summers at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. He was so outstanding that his guided walks, hikes, and evening programs became part of the park experience. In fact it is often said that park visitors would arrange their vacation schedules just to be able to take a guided walk with Carl and attend his programs. He was the first to lead the 7-day loop hike of Yosemite High Sierra Camps. His excellence in the performance of duty was recognized by NPS management, and they converted him to permanent status, even though he never worked for the NPS on a full-time basis. Of course, during the off-season, before his retirement from San Jose State, he was a full-time professor of botany, plant taxonomy, and plant geography.

The NPS isn't the only government agency of course that is evading legal requirements when it comes to seasonal workers. Remember the 19 "Granite Mt. Hotshots" killed fighting the Yarnell hill fire last year?

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ariz-hotshot-widow-juliann-ashcraft-fighting-for-denied-benefits/

In this TV news story one of the sobbing widows is asking why she is being denied survivor benefits. Even though her husband worked for the City of Phoenix 40 hrs a week 52 weeks a year on paper he was a seasonal. This pregnant widow and her four children won't get the same support as those classified as permanent employees.

God forbid, but it is probably just a matter of time before the NPS is dealing with a PR disaster exactly like this. Maybe that is what it will take for the agency to crack down on these abuses.

Where are you Coalition of National Park Service Retirees? Where are you Association of National Park Rangers? Do you want to look at the next sobbing widow on TV wondering how she'll support her family and know that you did nothing? The ship is heading right for the iceburg grab the wheel and do somthing.

Perpetrual Seasonal - I've often disagreed with what I perceived to be whining about your personal situation with the NPS, but I have to agree 100% with your support of Juliann Ashcraft and her peers.

Rick Smith-

You still haven't answered my questions.

1: Destry Jarvis said of seasonal employees “current law does not really allow them to be perceived as an easily accessed recruitment pool, even when there are vacancies.” Do you believe that statement to be accurate?

2: If you do think it is accurate, do you think it is good for taxpayers and the NPS that approximately 2/5ths of its workforce, about 10,000 people every year, the majority of its field staff, are not an “easily accessed recruitment pool” even for jobs which are identical or very similar to those they already do? My numbers may be off, they are the best I could find in a quick search. My point stands.

3: If you don't think that the current situation is a good thing, why would a bill to give seasonal employees status not fix the problem? If you do think the situation is good for the NPS and the taxpayers, in what way is it good?

4: What, from management's perspective, is the downside to such a bill? As a manager, why would you not want the ability to promote a good employee?

5: If it would help, and there is not a substantial downside, then doesn't the CNPSR have a responsibility to advocate for it? The CNPSR website says:

over 900 former NPS employees, many of whom were senior managers in the agency, have joined the Coalition to support the mission of the National Park Service and the employees who carry it out.”

Does the coalition actually only support 3/5ths of the employees who carry out the NPS mission? You say that a decision was made not to get involved in personnel issues. My guess is that what was actually meant by that was issues with specific individuals. In November of 2011, Bill Wade, in his capacity as chair of the CNPSR executive council, wrote to the director of the OPM regarding problems with hiring people into back to back term appointments (which was the right thing to do, I'm glad he did so). How is that any less of a personnel issue, or any larger of a problem, then the situation with seasonal employees?

The letter is here: http://npsretirees.org/documents/to-opm-director-berry-re-term-position-extensions/

Parts of that letter bear repeating, because although Mr. Wade is talking about term employees, what he is saying is just as applicable to seasonals:

Units of the National Park System, by their very nature are often located in remote areas. Often housing accommodations for employees are very limited, making it difficult to attract highly qualified candidates, especially for specialized positions. In many cases, because of their remoteness, Parks do not have access to a large, or even sufficient local pool of candidates, again especially for specialized positions.”

There are often pressures, political and other, brought to bear on the Parks to complete these projects in an expedient manner. Onerous hiring processes often slow or bring these projects to a halt and in some cases trained and skilled employees are lost to other hiring sources because of the uncertainties and delays in extending term appointments.”

“Because some people who aren't hired will always suspect cronyism” is not a good enough answer. There will always be cronyism, and the perception of cronyism. That is not an excuse not to fix a specific problem. Please don't dodge the question by bringing up diversity or what you perceive as a passed over employee's bitterness. I am talking about one, specific, issue: seasonal employees' lack of the same eligibility for promotions that permanent employees have. If the CNPSR is sincere in its desire to promote the effective management of the National Park System, it has an obligation to push this issue aggressively.

willj, I hadn't see that letter from Bill Wade. Thank You. I would not agree with extending term appointments beyond the current limits. If a "project" is lasting that long it isn't really a project it is work being done by someone who should be a permanent employee. And if the work does go away it is possible to get rid of a permanent person or transfer them isn't it? They should do that. Often term appointments are used to do regular daily operations. I worked in some term jobs and I was working right along side and was interchangeable with permanent staff. That is not what that kind of appointment is for.

I know some guys with LE commissions working in term appointments that are about to end. It is wrong and a complete waste that these top notch rangers are going to be out of the agency or moved into another discipline while permanent law enforcement jobs are being held for "pro" rangers. Will the CNPSR be sending any letters on their behalf ?

PS, I agree in principle, but at that point people were losing their jobs. They were not going to fill those jobs with permanents, they were going to fill them with seasonals or not at all. They do need to stop filling permanent jobs with term employees. In order to do that, they need to stop the shell game of using project dollars to pay for park operations. In the meantime, they need to take it one day at a time and do what they have to do to keep good people around.

RickB, I also agree with Perpetual Seasonal on the Juliann Ashcraft (and her peers) situation, it is simply a tragic situation. I do think it is an example of the very tenuous position seasonal/ part time employees find themselves. It is disconcerting to think a employee could work 40 hours a week, year around, and not have the benefits that would protect them and their family members. I do not think there is any justification for this employment practice and it is probably unlawful, not that I am an expert in the field. George Durkee, if you are still tuned in, what was the outcome for the seasonal ("The Last Season", a great book by the way) that was killed in the mountaineering accident in Sequoia/Kings Canyon as far as the benefits for his competent and talented spouse? I do not want to invade any privacy issues here, but I hope the NPS did the right thing.

While i have all sympathies for the Ashcraft family ( and those of the other fifefighters), were they ever told they would get survivors benefits?

Regarding Granite Mountain: national standards for hotshot crews require them to have at least 7 permanent employees, due to the negative effects of a transient staff on crew cohesion and productivity. Granite Mountain only had 6. The city of Prescott lied on the crew's annual certification checklist, stating that temporary seasonal firefighter Christopher 
MacKenzie was permanent. Not saying that had anything to do with what happened, but it is shady nonetheless. The constant search for short term savings from cutting benefits is having long term effects on capabilities. If they had told the truth, the crew would have been downgraded to a type 2 crew, potentially losing the lucrative nationwide assignments that helped to fund the city's wildland division.

http://www.investigativemedia.com/yarnell-hill-fire-the-granite-mountain-hotshots-never-shouldve-been-deployed-mounting-evidence-shows-2/

As a member of both ANPR and CNSPR, I have just submitted my written request for these two organizations to become active in addressing the numerous issues raised on this excellent discussion thread. I am especially concerned about the plight of seasonal NPS employees, their lack of benefits, and difficulties encountered in having their employment experience and performance given appropriate consideration when competing for conversion to permanent status.

Thank you very much Owen. It is great to see that some people get it. I think that advocacy by people who are not currently seasonal employees, and thus don't stand to gain personally from fixing the problem, is key to the issue being taken seriously and addressed. So again, thanks. I hope you aren't the only one.

Look, folks, it's not whether ANPR or the Coalition want to do something about recruitment, leadership, succession or the other issues mentiioned in this thread. We do. It's whether the NPS wants to do anything about them. I think you would be much better off trying to work within the system than to expect outside groups to apply pressure to fix problems that mostly exist within the system Remember, those of us in the Coalition have no status with the NPS. Its leaders no longer have to listen to us. That's one huge advantage that many of you have. You are a voice in the organization.

Rick

Rick and others, I am still wondering just how much of all this hiring mess is really a result of NPS policies and how much may result from an organization trying desperately to comply with a hodgepodge of hastily written and very poor laws from a Congress beholden to more special interests than we can count.

Does anyone have an answer to that?

I wonder if a well-worded petition to Obama might generate the hundred-thousand signature threshold on the federal seasonal employment issue? https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/

Come on, Rick, you know better than that.

Yes, there are policy and cultural issues within the NPS that lead to some of the problems we are discussing here. But, as I'm sure you would point out if I were just insisting that the NPS has to change its hiring system, a large part of the problem comes from above, from the OPM, and from laws that only Congress can change.

Exactly how would you suggest a seasonal employee go about working within the system to change federal hiring law? Talk to your supervisor? People who supervise seasonals know the problems, they spend much of their working life trying to deal with the problems. They have zero ability to fix them, the best they can do is try to work around them in an ethical manner. Often they are seasonal themselves. Go farther up the chain? I think you know where that would lead (“...endless hours bitching about their working conditions”).

Being seasonal within the system is not an advantage. We are all in an extremely tenuous situation. The NPS doesn't have to listen to you, but they often do. They don't have to listen to us either, and I can assure you that they don't. Retirees no longer have to worry about their livelihood and can tell it like it is.

The law needs to be changed, to allow seasonals to compete for permanent jobs. In order for the law to be changed, Congress needs to be lobbied to change it. NPS management isn't supposed to lobby Congress, although if called, they can and should testify on the need for the law to be changed. As a group of former managers, CNPSR has credibility on such issues, and this is an instance where that credibility should be used. The coalition has lobbied Congress on many issues it found important. Why not this one? If there is an issue with more of a negative effect on employee morale, I don't know what it is.

You still haven't answered my questions from yesterday at 8:22 and earlier.

Lee, it really is a mix of things, some policies with maybe unintended consequences, an odd organizational culture that doesn't seem to value long term employees, and the agency trying to implement laws that don't fit their hiring needs. I don't think there are really special interests involved. Mostly just no interest. My post from 2/6, 9:09am explains it the best I know how.


from a Congress beholden to more special interests than we can count.


What like CNPSR, ANPR NFFE....? Come on, get off your "special interest" high horse. Every person, organization, business et al have a "special interest". They try to bring that interest to the attention of Congress and have their interest addressed. There is nothing wrong with that. It is the way government has worked for thousands of years and is likely to work for thousands of years into the future.

If you have a problem with a specific "quid pro quo" bring it forward, - you know like appointing 23 "bundlers", many with absolutely no qualifications, to ambassador jobs.

Yes, including special interests like CNPSR, ANPR NFFE and a few thousand others. The problem now, however, may be that Congress is more concerned with trying desperately to keep all of them happy than in making good decisions. As a result we have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of hasty laws that frequently conflict with others. Trying to navigate that morass of mush is, I believe, the main problem with our various governmental departments today.

And what the dickens are "bundlers?" Ambassador jobs have been political handouts by Presidents to their friends ever since the beginning. Nothing new there.

Willj, yes, I agree. But I still wonder how much of those problems started within the NPS and how many were imposed by laws beyond the agency's control?

ecbuck, you make an excellent point, I agree, our political system responds to those that apply the pressure, with dollars, or just sheer numbers, litigation etc. Those that can afford lobbyists, lawyers, etc to simply overwhelm our political leaders, and that takes a great deal of money, usually prevail, not always, but usually. It is difficult for many lesser organizations that represent a group, say NPS seasonal employees, to get much traction. I think that the system is currently weighted, alarming so, to those that control the wealth of country. I think you once stated this has always been the case, but occasionally reformist movements appear that help shape what are, at least many people think that way, more progressive policies, ie conservation, environmental safeguards, fair employment practices, labor law, progressive taxation, women and minority opportunities, etc. This has happened in both republican and democratic political parties (Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and FDR good examples). This is probably not the thread of a discussion for the "Traveler", please excuse, but your point is well taken.