During the week of May 22, America is to celebrate "National Parks Week," " a creation of new Park Service Director Roger Kennedy. But some Park Service employees may not be in the mood to join the celebration.
The new director is
driving the agency headlong into a sweeping reorganization that may
include job cuts of up to 25 percent in some divisions and
elimination of four of 10 regional offices. He has already imposed
a hiring freeze.
This at a time that Kennedy
himself admits the nation's parks are impoverished and underpaid
rangers are stretching already inadequate funds to deal with
mounting visitor numbers.
As the nation's top
park ranger, Kennedy has defined himself as a salesman hired to
focus public attention on national parks that fell out of the
spotlight during the Reagan and Bush administrations. But as his
first year draws to a close, the 68-year-old lawyer and former
journalist, banker and museum official has yet to draw strong
support from his own employees - who by now are used to lackluster
"Top leadership in the National Park
Service has been fragmented and lacking vision pretty much for 15
years," " said Don Castleberry, a regional director who retired in
April. While Kennedy, a political appointee, is a genuine friend of
national parks, Castleberry said he suffers from not knowing enough
about the Park Service.
"You can't rebuild a
bureaucracy without help from the people in it."
Many Park Service insiders agree a shakeup may
do the agency good, but suggest Kennedy may have started shaking
things before figuring out what he wants to
Even some environmentalists, who hoped
the new administration would rejuvenate the Park Service, express
frustration. Kennedy, they say, has been all but silent on major
issues, such as how to deal with R.S. 2477, an obscure federal law
that may allow states to turn old trails through national parks
into paved highways.
In published interviews, the
new director has dodged more questions than he has answered -
avoiding such topics as whether visitation should be limited in the
most crowded parks. In fact, Kennedy has gained more public notice
for his memos than for what little he has said about the future of
America's national parks.
First there was his
memo offering guidelines for Park Service party-giving: "Cocktails
should never last more than one hour, unless the event is a
reunion, in which case a little more time is appropriate." " The
memo, sent to the agency's top two dozen officials, was recounted
in a Washington Post article that began, "Party on, park rangers."
Then came a memo, also recounted in the Post,
urging a colleague to find a job for a John Trevor, who Kennedy
described as a "Swahili-speaking person who has Peace Corps
experience, is a cum laude in English from Harvard and has a
biological background in data manipulation." " He added this
caveat: "Unfortunately, Mr. Trevor is white, which is too bad." "
Kennedy wrote the memo just two weeks before announcing major Park
Service job cuts to his staff.
In a more recent
memo, Kennedy gave more than 100 top officials helpful hints to
remember when drafting letters for his
"1. Please do not split infinitives.
Adverbs should go before the infinitive or after the infinitive but
not in the midst thereof." "
There was also his
televised statement that Americans "are willing to be taxed and
taxed'" to support national parks. That came just as the Clinton
administration was trying to blunt criticism of its first budget
bill, which included tax hikes.
already circulating in the agency that if Kennedy's blunders
continue, his tenure as National Park Service director may not. But
whether or not Kennedy is worried about his job, many of the
National Park Service's 20,000 employees are worried about
All federal agencies, particularly those
dealing in land management, face change, due both to Vice President
Al Gore's "reinventing government initiative'" and the Clinton
administration's effort to reduce the federal workforce by 252,000
employees by 1999.
A buyout this spring was the
first step. The U.S. Forest Service gave up more than 2,000 of its
30,000-plus employees. The Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of
Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs also gave up plenty of
personnel. And the National Park Service lost more than 500 to the
But unlike other agencies, with the
exception of the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service
had launched a major reorganization effort as early as last year -
feverishly embracing the administration's notion of a streamlined
government. At Kennedy's behest, Park Service brass are plotting to
cut more than 1,300 positions. If the buyout and attrition don't do
it, layoffs might result.
"Nobody knows what the
shape of the Park Service is going to look like after all this is
done," " said NPS spokesman Ben Moffett.
messages to his workforce, Kennedy has alluded to plans for
slashing 25 percent of the jobs in the Park Service's 10 regional
offices and support centers. A hiring freeze began in February. He
wants to eliminate regional offices in Seattle, Anchorage, Boston
and Washington, D.C., while rerouting resources to the
In a Dec. 6, 1993, letter titled, "Our
Circumstances," " Kennedy told employees: "We must measure success
by how well the organization serves the places under our care and
our primary "customers' ... ot by how well it meets the needs of
the bureaucracy." " Kennedy says he wants higher salaries for park
rangers, half of whom earn less than $25,000 each year. And he says
he favors raising visitor fees and extracting more money from park
concessionaires. But he has not offered any clear strategy either
for achieving those goals or for making the cuts he
That has left lower-level employees
worried about what might become of them. Some suspect that
Kennedy's much-touted streamlining will turn out to be nothing more
than a glorified "shrinkwrapping'" of an agency already accustomed
to doing more with less. While the agency fielded one ranger for
every 59,000 visitors in 1980, for instance, it now has just one
ranger per 80,000 visitors.
"The anxiety level is
very high, especially among newer people," said Charlie Clapper,
director of the agency's Denver Service Center, which provides
planning and architectural support to America's
There is hope the administration will
repeat cash incentives to spur more early retirements and
resignations in coming years. But there is also fear that agencies
will resort to layoffs known as "reductions in force," or
If that happens, seniority determines who
stays. The most recent hires are first out the
"There's no question that a large portion
of those are the women and minorities we've tried so hard to
recruit in the past several years," Clapper said. "We hire a lot of
professionals, architects and planners, and we've worked hard to
get a good diversity of people."
reports for the Billings Gazette from Cody, Wyoming.