FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, October 17, 2023
Jeff Ruch email@example.com (510) 213-7028
Bad Actors Awarded Top Park Service Jobs
Allergy to Accountability Afflicting Park Service Undermines Morale
Washington, DC —A new management appointment indicates that serious financial misconduct is still not a barrier to promotion in the top ranks of the National Park Service (NPS). This lack of accountability for senior officials compared to the harsh treatment of line staff has been a sore point driving down employee morale, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In the latest example, on September 29, 2023, NPS named Ed Clark as the new superintendent for the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. In 2016, the Office for Inspector General (IG) for the Interior Department found that Clark improperly solicited and accepted $23,000 in travel vouchers from a private group while the superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park. In addition, Clark requested and pocketed full NPS per diem reimbursement for meals and travel on the days he was paid in private funds. The IG referred the matter to the Justice Department, which declined to prosecute.
Rather than firing Clark, the NPS moved him to its Pacific Regional Office to serve as a senior project manager. In the press release for his new posting, the NPS made no mention of the IG report but instead noted that while at Gettysburg, Clark had “built strong partnerships and provided strategic leadership for one of the nation’s premier civil war battlefields.”
His case echoes that of Michael Caldwell, who, while Northeast Regional Director, committed $17,000 in travel reimbursement fraud, according to another IG report. The Justice Department also declined prosecution. NPS moved Caldwell to a “special assistant” slot in headquarters, where he now serves as the chief of staff for its Planning, Facilities and Lands Directorate.
“The National Park Service should not be promoting employees who commit financial fraud,” remarked PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse. “The immunity from punishment enjoyed by the Park Service’s inner circle is one reason the agency has such lousy morale.”
Whitehouse points to internal surveys seeking to find out why the Park Service has the lowest morale among all Interior Department agencies and among the lowest in federal service. One such report, called “NPS Voices,” cited the total lack of accountability for misconduct among superintendents and other senior officials who are “transferred or even promoted rather than given realistic and appropriate consequences.”
“Senior Park Service officials have such a sense of impunity they are often called the ‘Untouchables’ by staff,” added Whitehouse. “If ever a federal agency needed a new broom to sweep it clean, it is the National Park Service.”