August 16, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke
Secretary
Department of the Interior
1849 C St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20240

Susan Combs
Acting Assistant Secretary
for Fish, Wildlife & Parks
Department of the Interior
1849 C St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Zinke:

I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,600 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, a non-profit organization composed entirely of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). Collectively, we offer the insights and lessons learned from over 35,000 years of experience. The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and advocates for the preservations of America’s National Park System.

The purpose of this letter is to express our concerns about your intention to reorganize the Department of the Interior and the proposed reorganization’s potential to harm the stewardship capacity of the National Park Service (NPS) and the well-being of its many employees. . We understand that a central goal of the proposed reorganization is establishment of 13 regions this fiscal year. They would be organized to unify agency bureaus in a fashion that emphasizes ecosystems and similar landscapes. We fully appreciate and fully support the goal of strengthening collaboration among the various bureaus in the Department of the Interior. In fact, such cooperation among bureaus and many other state, local, and private resources management organizations has long been a core goal of our work throughout our careers. Likewise, we have long promoted and organized our work to promote collaboration throughout ecosystems, nationally and internationally.

We also understand the challenges of such collaboration within the agency, and especially among diverse public interest groups outside of our “comfort zone.” And, we need to be reminded, led, and challenged to do better. However, spending tens of millions of dollars and forcing hundreds of employees and their families to relocate is not the solution. Moreover, spending appropriated funds to move desks and people wastes the opportunity to use precious funding to strengthen the basic resources stewardship and visitor service programs that have been so badly reduced by budgetary constraints in recent years.

Reorganization is not new to the National Park Service. In fact, most of us experienced the challenges and personal trauma of such initiatives several times during our careers. For example, in 1995, we were required to implement the Clinton Administration’s “Reinventing Government Initiative” under which the NPS was ordered to reduce central office staffing by 1,300 positions, which resulted in consolidation of 10 regions into the current seven regions. Additionally, then-Secretary Babbitt created a new agency, the National Biological Survey (later Service) that unified staff from seven bureaus within the Department and formed a single biological science bureau. The stated goal of this initiative was to move more people to the field, and unify science.
Under President George W. Bush, the NPS was required to re-organize in a fashion to increase competition with the private sector to perform many operational activities.

Another reorganization scheme emerged that led to significant shifts to the purpose of central offices from emphasis on management and oversight to primarily a support function.

The goals of such reorganizations were invariably noble, and implemented with good intentions. But the outcome of most all of these efforts was the same – significant money spent, lives of countless employees disrupted, suffocating distractions, and reductions from the basic mission and goals of the National Park Service.

Collectively, we have learned that there are other less harmful ways to achieve the lawful missions of the NPS and our sister bureaus as well as the goals of this Administration without such disruptions and wasteful spending. Our thousands of years of experience leads to the inescapable conclusion that, above all, strengthening collaboration within DOI and throughout state and local governments is the outcome of leadership and direction rather than any particular organization. If leadership that represents core goals and values is absent, no amount of reorganizing will make a difference. Such leadership at all levels can be guided, inspired, and improved in many ways, most basically through improved training, guidance, and mentoring. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance might be helpful toward achievement of your goals, but cannot support the waste and trauma of the massive reorganization that has been proposed.

Thank you for considering our views.
Sincerely,

 

 

Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks

Cc: Senators Murkowski, Udall, and Cantwell; Representatives Calvert, McCollum, Bishop and Grijalva