Canaveral National Seashore Superintendent Myrna Palfrey, whose administration has been investigated three times by the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General, has been reassigned on a temporary basis to the National Park Service's Southeast Regional Office to serve as a special assistant involved with Partnership Programs and Strategic Planning.
Superintendent Palfrey notified seashore employees via email last Friday to say she was moving into her new role as of this past Sunday, September 18.
"Thank you for all your work and continuous dedication to Canaveral and to the National Park Service," she wrote. "I am confident that you will continue to support the Park moving forward."
The move was immediately criticized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which charged that the Park Service under Director Jon Jarvis has a double standard for dealing with top managers accused of wrongdoing and rank-and-file employees who are whistleblowers.
“In today’s Park Service, superintendents are apparently fire-proof," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "When it comes to whistleblowers, they don’t hesitate to fire them.”
Superintendent Palfrey's performance at Canaveral drew attention in April 2011 when a park biologist raised concerns over how contracting decisions were made at the national seashore along the Florida coastline. Specifically, Dr. Candace Carter alleged that contracts for the construction of a building were broken down into "split purchases" to avoid going through competitive bidding, and that there was nepotism involved in awarding some of the contracts.
A resulting Office of Inspector General investigation found evidence to support the complaints. It also determined that Superintendent Palfrey didn't act when the allegations were brought to her attention.
Dr. Carter eventually brought a case that she was being retaliated against for being a whistleblower. When the case reached the federal government's Merit Systems Protection Board, the presiding judge said she didn't believe Superintendent Palfrey's portrayal of the matter.
"I note, as concluded by the OIG, that Palfrey failed to tell the truth on more than one occasion during the OIG investigation, and I have no confidence that she would be any more honest or forthright before the Board," Judge Pamela B. Jackson wrote in her ruling that Dr. Carter had been a victim of retaliation.
In her new role, which was created by Regional Director Stan Austin and is expected to run up to six months, subject to extension, Ms. Palfrey will be working from her home. Part of the assignment involves creating some online partnership training modules, Roxanne Dey, the Southeast Region's acting assistant regional director for communications and legislative affairs, said Tuesday during a phone call. Ms. Palfrey also has been tasked wth developing a partnership tracking system for the region.
Ms. Dey took exception to PEER's depiction of Ms. Palfrey's new assignment, but said she couldn't specifically address the OIG investigations at Canaveral as the matters were still being reviewed for "an appropriate action" to be taken.
"Sometimes that takes time, and until the final determinations are made, we can't talk about that," she said. "And so, I don't want you to think I'm being evasive. There are other ongoing actions related to the chief ranger, but until those processes are complete, I really can't discuss them. And so it makes it difficult to answer all of your questions until that process is complete."
The "chief ranger" incident Ms. Dey referred to concerned allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against Canaveral's chief ranger, who has had his law enforcement commission suspended, she said.
"Right now, he is working remotely, reporting to the deputy chief ranger, updating emergency management plans and working on updating plans for hurricane response, and until that process is complete with the chief ranger, I can't give you any additional information," said Ms. Dey.
Whether Superintendent Palfrey returns to Canaveral after her assignment to the regional office is unknown, the spokeswoman said.
Director Jarvis has faced criticism from some members of Congress over his managerial skills. On Thursday, for instance, the full House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing into "misconduct and mismanagement at the National Park Service." Among the Park Service witnesses expected to appear before the committee is Michael Reynolds, the deputy director of operations.
“In our experience, the Park Service does not hesitate to take punitive action, including termination, against whistleblowers," Mr. Ruch said in a release. "The double standard favoring agency managers is one reason employee morale in the Park Service has been plummeting. The Park Service is an agency that definitely needs less – not more – sinecure slots in its Headquarters and Regional Offices.”