The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Politics Trumping Service for Natâ€TMl Parks Employees, Group Says

by Brendan Coyne

Oct. 14, 2005 – Citing a need to "meet the challenges and to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of us," National Parks Service Director Fran Mainella issued new hiring rules for the federal agency Tuesday that call for top civil-service employees to show a commitment to a set of sweeping federal rule changes.

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In a letter to fellow members of the body overseeing NPS policy, Mainella announced a new process for appointing or hiring agency managers who demonstrate they can lead employees in achieving three sets of goals: NPS "legacy goals," Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s "4 Cs" (defined by Norton as "communication, consultation, cooperation, all in the service of conservation) and the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). The letter was obtained and made public by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The last requirement refers to a 64-page White House document outlining plans to incorporate outsourcing and further reduce the federal workforce, in addition to privatizing portions of the government and inviting greater participation by religious organizations. Critics of the PMA charge that is a tool for lowering federal standards on a number of issues, including pay, worker’s rights and environmental regulations.

Additionally, the PMA calls for expanding religion’s influence in the national government. Last year, employees of the Park Service and advocates of keeping religion and government separate raised alarms over the re-introduction of claims unsupported by science into public parks.

One such instance, the decision to have park bookshops sell a book claiming that the Grand Canyon was created by "God" in six days, spurred strong opposition by several groups worried over encroaching Christianity in modern American life.

The latest Park Service staffing changes are another step along that road and represent a "complete centralization of Park Service promotion and hiring," PEER said in a statement Wednesday. Additionally, the group charges that hiring and promotions are contingent on politics under the NPS rules.

"It is outrageous that park superintendents must swear political loyalty to the Bush agenda and parrot hokey mottos in order to earn a promotion," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said. "The merit system is supposed to be about ability, not apple polishing."

A year ago, noted chronicler of US right-wing movements Bill Berkowitz pointed out that a Park Service hiring freeze and a working relationship with the American Recreation Coalition was accelerating the privatization of the nation’s parkland. The National Parks Conservation Association estimates that the federal government underfunds the parks system, leading to a budget shortfall over $600 million a year.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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