Washington, DC — Entering a new dimension of micromanagement, Congress is now seeking to specify the pay grades and civil service rankings for individual park managers, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The earmark for one National Park superintendent in Mississippi marks the first time that Congress would inject itself into specifying the grade ranking for individual civil servants and may open the floodgates to similar moves designed to boost federal payrolls in particular districts or states.
At the behest of Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS), the funding bill for the National Park Service stipulates that “The position of Superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway [in Mississippi] shall be classified in the Senior Executive Service,” the top federal civil service grade, ranking just below a political appointee, with a salary range of between $109,000 and $165,000 per year.
Sen. Cochran would consolidate four small park units in his state (the Natchez Trace Parkway, Natchez National Historical Park, Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield Site, and Tupelo National Battlefield) and place them under the supervision of one Senior Executive Service (SES) slot. These combined units, however, employ only 110 workers, out of the entire187-person Park Service workforce in Mississippi, according to Office of Personnel Management figures.
The potential ripple effects of this unprecedented legislative action extend beyond the Magnolia State:
- The Park Service has only 29 total SES slots, including associate and regional directors, as well as superintendents of a handful of the very largest parks. Under the Cochran ratio of having one SES supervisor for every 110 employees, the number of SES slots in the Park Service would grow nearly ten-fold;
- The Cochran plan would still leave lower grade superintendents at the other three parks, further adding to an already top-heavy Park Service command structure; and
- Park Service operational costs are surging ahead of available funding. Legislatively inflated grade creep will only aggravate these already acute funding shortfalls.
“We are on the threshold of a whole new era of payroll pork,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Interior Department officials are studying the rider but have declined to indicate a position on the matter. “Congress has no business intruding into staffing minutiae, particularly by putting statutory straightjackets on park mangers that prevent them from deploying personnel and resources efficiently.”
The Cochran provision is now pending in the Senate’s version of the FY2007 appropriation bill for Interior and Related Agencies, which includes the budget for the National Park Service. The House of Representatives has no comparable provision in its version and the difference will be resolved in a two-house conference committee later this summer.