For Immediate Release: Apr 30, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Musical Chairs Shuffle National Park Service Leadership
Multiple Involuntary Moves Appear Designed to Force Targeted Managers to Retire
Washington, DC — The upper echelons of the National Park Service is undergoing a stealth makeover, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The sudden unannounced moves affect most of the NPS senior leadership and functionally demote a top manager who is a key witness in an ongoing investigation into alleged misconduct by the agency’s acting director.
In a series of phone calls, acting Director Danny Smith informed five of NPS’ seven regional directors and the Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park of their transfers to new positions. Most all affected as members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), super-grade civil servants, and all have long tenures in the Park Service. Any senior executive who refuses such a transfer is separated from federal service.
These multiple abrupt personnel shifts are notable in large part because –
- The Alaska Regional Director Herbert (Bert) Frost is the principal witness in an ongoing investigation into alleged sexually crude behavior by acting Director Smith. His transfer to the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is a significant downgrade from his current responsibilities;
- These moves come just days after a report by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General criticized a similar mass transfer of 35 SES positions by the Interior Department in 2017. Contrary to a protocol that senior executives moved outside their current commuting area must be consulted on the reasons for, and preferences with respect to, any such proposed reassignment, none of the NPS executives were consulted prior to being notified of their transfers; and
- There is no confirmed NPS Director and the Trump White House has yet to nominate one. PEER has a pending complaint that Danny Smith’s designation as acting director is illegal and, pursuant to the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, all actions that he takes are without legal effect.
“These multiple moves resemble a purge and have no apparent management motivation other than to marginalize and disrupt,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the ink is barely dry on a report from the Inspector General faulting the very sort of mass shifts the Park Service has just initiated. “Danny Smith informing a witness against him of an involuntary transfer does not pass the smell test.”
Interior’s Executive Resources Board (ERB), an entity run by and constituted primarily of political appointees, must approve any final SES transfers. In the case of the 35 Interior SES transfers, the Inspector General found that the ERB kept no records and could offer no coherent explanation for the moves. Nor could the ERB members even identify who ordered the transfers. ERB meetings do not require public notice and its decisions are not posted.
“This shuffle denotes the ascendancy of petty politics at the helm of our national parks,” added Ruch, pointing out that the upper echelons of federal civil service have scant protection against arbitrary transfer. “Entering its second century, the National Park Service is afflicted by ethically compromised leadership lacking a vision of its mission.”