When and if the National Park Service is allowed by the Congress to reorganize itself, it will still have 366 Park Service units and close to 300 million visitors a year. But the management of those parks and visitors and how decisions are made will be very different.
Gone will be the heavily
staffed Washington office, with 1,100 employees overseeing 10
regional offices. And gone will be the regional offices, each with
200 or so employees, overseeing in turn an average of 40 parks.
In their places will be a slimmed-down D.C.
office, and seven even slimmer field offices, each with only 20 or
so employees. Those field offices will each oversee 50 or so parks.
Finally, to provide the legal, architectural and planning services
the parks need, there will also be 16 system support offices, each
attached to a cluster of parks grouped by ecosystem, and each
staffed by 80 to 100 people.
In the West, for
example, the Rocky Mountain Regional Office in Denver will be
merged with the Southwest Regional Office in Santa Fe. The 400 or
so employees now in those two offices will become about 20
employees in the new Intermountain Field Office. That office's few
employees will set policy for parks stretching from Glacier in
Montana, on the Canadian border, to Great Bend in Texas, on the
The 79 parks, monuments, historic
sites and six historic trails in the Intermountain Field Office
will, in turn, be organized into three ecosystem clusters: the
Rocky Mountain cluster (Yellowstone, Glacier, et al), the Colorado
Plateau cluster (Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, et al), and the
Southwest cluster (Grand Canyon, Organ Pipe, et al). Each cluster
will have a system support office, headed by a superintendent whose
civil service grade will outrank that of the park
In theory, power will devolve to
the park superintendents in each cluster, who will decide jointly
how to distribute resources. (That decision is now made by the
regional offices.) In addition, the superintendents will be freer
to govern their individual parks, working with local communities
and governments on a consensus basis.
of the questions about the reorganization center on who will
actually exercise the power. Some wonder if the superintendents who
head the system support offices will become de facto heads of the
parks in his or her ecosystem cluster. Others believe the park
superintendents will be able to jointly govern the cluster. And
some think internal governance will be irrelevant, because the new
system will become like the now changing Bureau of Land Management,
run for and by special economic
Whether or not the reorganization is
approved by the Congress, it is already having an effect, as Park
Service employees anticipate the new order. In Denver, the Regional
Office has dropped from 170 employees to 140 since March. The same
trend is visible in Washington, D.C., where 120 employees have left
the central office for the "field." Overall, there are 500
vacancies still to be filled at national park and recreation areas,
and under Operation Opportunity, employees in the central and
regional offices have first shot at those jobs.