National Park Service Falls in "Best Places To Work" Rankings

As an agency, the National Park Service is moving in the wrong direction in the annual Best Places To Work directory of federal agencies.

While the Park Service stood 139th among federal agencies in the 2010 rankings, the latest accounting shows the agency has slipped to 163rd out of 240 agencies.

When he was appointed director of the agency in 2009, among the pledges Jon Jarvis made was a commitment to improve the day-to-day life of Park Service employees.

"To help you succeed, we will provide the funding, training, succession planning, recognition, facilities, and policies you need to get your work done," he said at the time.

But the agency, struggling with funding in a sour economy, ranks poorly in its employees' view of pay, training, teamwork, work/life balance, diversity, and other areas, according to the latest rankings produced by the Partnership for Public Service, which relies on data from the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to rank agencies and their subcomponents.

In the category of work/life balance, the Park Service ranked 221 out of 229 agencies; under teamwork, it ranked 217 out of 229; under strategic management, it stood 212 out of 229; in terms of training and development, it stood 210 out of 229; in the category of support for diversity, it ranked 214 out of 229; in the category of effective leadership--supervisors, the agency stood 204th; in effective leadership--leaders it did a bit better, ranking 190th.

The Park Service did score relatively high when it comes to matching employees to their missions, as the agency stood 77th out of 229 agencies.

In comparison to some other agencies, the Park Service ranked better, overall, than the U.S. Forest Service, but more poorly than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Director Jarvis did not immediately respond to a request for his views on the latest rankings. However, the agency's program manager for workplace enrichment, Kate Richardson, attributed some of the agency's poor showing to the government's struggling fiscal standing.

"Uncertainty over jobs, operations, pay and benefits have made 2011 an especially difficult year and 2012 doesn’t appear that it will be any better," she said in a release. "However, 93 percent of NPS respondents believe the work they do is important and 99 percent are willing to put in extra effort to get a job done. On the flip side, only 42 percent are satisfied with the training they’ve received for their present job – a 5 percent drop from last year."

Here's how Ms. Richardson summed up the 2011 rankings:

* The NPS ranks 163 out of 224 agencies, a 4.3% decrease from 2010;

* For context, there was a governmentwide decline of 1.5% and DOI decline of 3.7%

* OPM survey administered to a random sample of employees from all federal agencies and should be viewed as interim assessment for the all employee survey in Spring 2012

* NPS has taken specific actions to address employee concerns since 2008 but trend is still declining

* Targeted action by NPS leadership can have a significant impact on improving the NPS ranking:

-- A 5 point increase would rank NPS in the top 100 federal agencies

-- A 10 point increase would rank NPS in the top 30 federal agencies

-- A 16 point increase would rank NPS in the top ten federal agencies

-- Actions need to occur in high impact areas as identified in the survey, primarily in the leadership subcomponent.

Looking at historically low scores and recent declines, the following specific actions are recommended for fostering change:

* NPS strengths in support of the mission should be sustained and leveraged.

* Senior leadership should fully engage and champion employee engagement:

-- Strengthen internal communication, personally engage in employee feedback activities, and initiate priority actions.

-- Establish performance measures around employee engagement and hold leaders, supervisors, and managers accountable to them.

* Supervisors and managers should be held accountable for effective leadership attributes and actions:

-- Require individual development plans (IDPs) for every employee.

-- Ensure supervisors are receiving both mandatory training and continuing education.

-- Ensure regular and meaningful performance discussions. Utilize the performance and development discussion guide.

-- Improve recognition practices as identified in the award and recognition guidelines.

* Training offices and supervisors should work closely to ensure a full complement of development and training is available to employees:

-- Require first 40 supervisory training within first quarter of new supervisor's tenure.

-- Ensure that employee IDPs are used as a developmental tool, and as a means for establishing regular, ongoing dialogue about employee and organizational needs.

* NPS inclusion and diversity workforce strategy needs to be committed to and fully implemented:

-- Cultural assessment gets high visibility and support as baseline for cultural change

-- Cultural competencies training is deployed Servicewide.


I've always wondered about these 'surveys'. I'm a recent federal retiree (not NPS) w/over 33 years of service and my former agency routinely ranked in the top 10. It was a constant surprise to the employees to read 'our' answers to the survey questions, which management then used to tell us how happy we were & pat themselves on the back & give themselves big cash awards for 'effective management'. At least it appears that the NPS may have used their people's 'real' answers!
If these rankings are true, my admiration for NPS employees has just gone up another notch. I've always been treated professionally and courteously by NPS personnel.

We seriously doubt there is much evidence of integrity among the NPS High
Command. After experiencing gross incompetence by key division Chiefs
supposedly directing Interpretation and Natural Resources, their focus was
clearly on promotion bonus dollars while demonstrating little interest and no
passion for solving resource challenges or communicating with the tax-payer-visitors
the true value of park resources. NPS continues to promote the wrong persons into key
positions who then homestead those roles sometimes for decades. Now, we
can better understand why the US Postal Service is failing and bascially bankrupt.

I agree Anon but there are many below those levels you mentioned that would be greatly relieved and enriched along with the public they serve if/when the culture changes for the better. Homestead is a good term for many but then again some are just playing the cards that are dealt and keep their heads down.

The NPS politically correct response and the spin put on the results of this survey is one of many reasons NPS employees are disgusted with its leadership – they lie, misrepresent and refuse to take responsibility for the loss of agency excellence. With all the advantages of having a national park workplace and a dedicated, mission focused workforce, the NPS continues to fail in leadership. The NPS spin put on the survey suggests that it was a lack of access to training that was the cause of the poor performance, implying a lack of fiscal resources is responsible for the continued agency decline. However, the NPS did not mention that the NPS ranked an abysmal 204th in “effective leadership” and a stunning 217th in “teamwork.” What agency needs teamwork and effective leadership more than the National Park Service? For decades, the NPS had been at or near the top in annual surveys and studies of the best-run federal agencies. During those years, other agencies use to complain that the NPS had inherent advantages: the parks; the vacationing taxpayers, the mission, the support of the public, etc. However, now that the agency is failing with these advantages, the NPS blames it on training, neglecting to mention that their own employees rated the agency as failing in several categories of leadership. It amazes me that the NPS refuses to acknowledge this result; instead they try to spin the results. Get this, these are the top three agencies: 1) Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, 2) Nuclear Regulatory Commission and 3) Government Accountability Office. Can you believe it? We all know that NPS management and leadership is awful, but until they recognize the problem, there can be no work on creating a solution. In case they are listening, here is a clue: the foundation of quality leadership is built upon integrity and ethical responsibility. Leaders must create, maintain and embrace agency values – and dramatically demonstrate a willingness to fight for our identity, mission and purpose. Leaders must demonstrate courage, selfless service and model the values that they espouse. The reason NPS employees cite a failure of leadership, is because the failing is so obvious. In the case of NPS leadership, you are your reputation---

Dear Disgusted: you've captured it brilliantly, thank you. Unfortunately, our leader has surrounded himself with "yes" men and will be unable to understand that the willingness to fight for our identity, mission, and purpose trump career aspirations.

Budget cuts affect all Federal Agencies across the board. Why is the NPS slipping in ranking with respect to the other agencies? What is contributing to the growing morale gap between the rank and file NPS'er and upper NPS management? Richard T., what will it take to change the internal NPS culture "for the better?"

Excellent questions, Owen! I'll pay them full tribute by thinking on them a bit more before I reply.

Owen, looking at the leanings of those that have been directing the NPS which is sure to bring on a conversation is that it appears that "most" everyone that should share the responsibility for the state of things good or bad (throughout the agency) are left of center. Is that statement arguable? Probably not particularly pleasing to hear. Is that not a fact? This is an important first step. I'm not in the mood for someone just to explain things away. Yes or no and I'll move on to the next step without bringing up afiliations again.

Richard T.--

In my 30+ years as an NPS employee, I found most of my colleagues to be moderately conservative, Republicans in the Teddy Roosevelt mode. I certainly did not consider them "left of center". Excuse me if I am misunderstanding what you mean by that phrase.


Rick Smith: I believe historically that "moderately conservative" would be a good description of demographics among NPS Employees. I also believe there has been a definite move to the left. I went to one of the largest Parks (by visitation and employee numbers) where most employees live inside the Park and where the voter precinct (59) is within 100 yards of the Grand Canyon Nation Park Headquarters. In the 2008 General Election results for this precinct the Liberal candidate for President (Obama) received 71.15% (466 votes) while the Conservative candidate (McCain) who is an Arizona resident living 3 hours away received 27.02% or 177 votes. With the location of this precinct and the demographics of the voter base it might be difficult to argue that most NPS'ers are moderate conservatives in todays world.
As to Owen's question,"what will it take to change the NPS culture for the better?" I'm going to another's opinion that I tend to agree with to answer it. "Before real change can occur, the NPS needs to reevaluate the concept of agency loyalty and redefine for it's workforce what it means to be a trusted employee."
"The National Park Service, as a whole...has some of the most dedicated and motivated employees in the entire Federal workforce. They consistently demonstrate that they are some of the most highly trained and highly skilled public safety and public safety officials to be found anywhere. As a group we are immensely proud of the work we do. All I ask is that you make it possible for us to be equally proud of the agency for which we work. The expertise is there. The longing for professionalism is there. All that is needed is your firm guidance to bring us to that end."
Both quotes were by Paul Berkowitz. The precedeing quote was spoken in closing testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks, National Forrests and Public lands some 25 years ago with both quotes being from his book,"The Case of the Indian Trader, Billy Malone and the National Park Service Investigation at Hubbell Trading Post."
With this kind of exposure I believe we're on a path for a burden to be lifted and that pride and professionalism in the truest sense can be experienced. I can't explain it any better than Mr. Berkowitz has, I don't believe.

Purchasing and contracting that don't work, implementing a plan to centralize nearly all HR functions that mirrors the failed approach taken by the Forest Service, refusal to accept and plan for zero-sum budgeting--all of which make it harder and harder for employees to do their mission-related jobs. Why would anyone be surprised by this outcome? None of this will change until some NPS DIrector goes down the hall in D.C. and tells the Associate Directors in charge of these things that they will be fired unless the problems are addressed! I know--what am I smoking? Never likely to happen!

So, Soon, it has to get worse before it gets better? The saying "never say never" has new meaning nowadays as I "never thought I'd see the day" that things would be the way they are, in so many areas. Bring on the worse if that's what it takes.
Sounds like you've got perfect timing concerning your pending retirement. Sorry you'll miss out on the adventure, lol!

I like agree with a lot of the comments on here. And I have to reiterate with what Disgusted stated above. I have worked for the NPS for a little over 8 years now and I work with some of the most dedicated employees, who love the NPS mission and what our national parks stand for. However, it is so disheartening to see the most inept and incompetent of employees promoted to leadership positions within the agency. It's a vicious circle of life within the NPS, because these same inept leaders then turn around and hire other inept leaders. To see time and time again, poor performing employees elevated to leadship positions, over high performing and more competent employees, is really depressing. Until this practice stops, we will continue to have a broken agency that will continue to drop in the rankings of best federal agencies to work for.

I guess the question now is do we want more of the same or leadership that restores pride and professionalism to the agency? So tell me folks, who's job description includes those criteria, really?

Anon@ (12/2/11, 3:55 PM) You say that it is commplace in the NPS for mediocre performers with lesser qualifications to be promoted within the ranks and that higher qualified and more motivated employees are often left standing in place. Why is this so? What factors contribute to this unfortunate practice? What would you do to change things?
During my professional career, I've come to learn that the two most important indgredients of effective managers is that they (a) expect and maintain high standards within the organization, and (b) demonstrate on a daily basis that they care about the quality of performance of duty.

I am proud to have worked for the NPS (1966-71) when it was considered to be among the top agencies in Federal government within which to work. I'd love to see the NPS return its former status as the "best place to work in Government service," once again.

Your words of support are noted and agreed with but....what should be done with the Hubbell Trading Post bunch and the mind set that's not so admirable. Let them continue to hide behind the plastic water bottle ban or some other PC cause?

The National Park Service is an organization in decline due to poor priorities and decision making at the highest levels. Management reflexively blames the budget, but the NPS is a lavishly funded organization. Their budget has increased by around 50% since 2000. Obviously costs have increased since then, but not at that level. The problem is that instead of using that money for basic park operations, it is used for a whole array of peripheral programs and BS travel.
For instance, the NPS wants every permanent and some term employees to go to "fundamentals" training, which requires a trip to the Grand Canyon and a trip to DC.
While most everything is else is cut, Resource Management gets more money for ever larger staff to conduct expanded, over the top compliance, increasing project costs for everyone else. They are also conducting a wide array of research projects that have little benefit to the public are better left to the universities.
The emphasis on hiring "youth" is getting out of control. While experienced employees are losing their jobs, the NPS is handing jobs to inexperienced, unskilled, and in some cases bone idle students, ignoring the pool of talented, adult, long term seasonals that have provided the backbone of this organization for years. People are wasting their time applying for jobs that they don't have a chance at because they will be filled by student hires. I have heard rumors that the student hiring authority is being taken away. If this is true, and management is unable to find a way around it, it is great news. Non competitive hiring of students for seasonal jobs is unseemly and counterproductive. For permanent jobs, it is downright corrupt.
I have never seen morale so low, and with good reason. We are being run into the ground by a pack of incompetent yes men. The competent people are being run ragged covering for the rest, and then, if they even want to stay with the organization, are usually passed over for promotion in favor of yet more yes men.
I could go on at length, but I think that is enough.

Left NPS in 2009 after eight years because a career that started as a seasonal and eventually became a permanent position turned into a nightmare after about the sixth year. Ranger DIvision at small park out in SW Texas. Supts. coming and going like there was a turnstile; longtime key personnel taking buyouts and the new people hired to replace them; cronies of upper park management who were incompetent and certainly not fit for the position. My supv., COI, married to AO, kept loading my already overloaded plate with HIS responsibilties, ie., NEPA, Annual Surveys, etc, etc,. Straw that broke camel's back: new rookie Supt., inexperienced and paranoid, constantly insinuating that this particular ranger (me) was engaged in "suspicious activities"! I really loved my job, the gray and green, and the park service as a whole, but alas, it has morphed from one of the most highly respected institutions in the world, into a mediocre, at best, and failed organization at it's worst, federal agency.