Washington, DC — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has repeatedly said he wants to fill growing staff shortfalls in national parks and refuges by moving employees from headquarters and regional offices to “front line” field positions. But figures obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) indicate that there are not enough bodies in these agencies’ rear echelons to fill the gaps.
PEER looked at staffing in the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in 2007, late in George W. Bush’s tenure, compared to 2017. Those figures show over the past decade–
- Total headquarters staff fell 13% and 12.5% for NPS and FWS, respectively;
- Total regional office staff levels fell 7% in FWS, for a net loss of 179 positions. In NPS, total regional office staffing grew less than 1% by a total of 9 slots; and
- There was little evidence of grade creep. Each agency had fewer super-grade Senior Executive Service (SES) positions and approximately the same number of GS-14s and GS-15s, the top civil servant ratings, despite aging workforces with big Baby Boomer contingents.
“Not only are there fewer staff in many of these central offices, but the number of parks and refuges they support and the complexity of the management issues they face have both grown substantially during the past decade,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, pointing to Sec. Zinke’s recent controversial reassignment of an estimated 50 SES slots. “Arbitrary ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ moves without consultation or even a known objective will not serve either Mr. Zinke or Interior well.”
Putting these numbers into context, it seems clear that the hemorrhaging losses in the field cannot be stanched by transfers. Over the past decade, the entire NPS workforce shrunk by more than a fifth with those losses accelerating year-by-year. During the 2009-2014 period, the NPS lost a net of more than 470 employees each year. In 2014 alone, that NPS had a net loss of more than 800 positions.
“If Secretary Zinke emptied every single employee out of both Headquarters and all regional offices into the field it would not make up for the Park Service staff losses in just the past five years,” Ruch added, noting that the Trump budget calls for double-digit cuts in both agencies. “Tired generalities about cutting middle management no longer cut it. Secretary Zinke owes Congress, the public and his own employees a concrete plan with real numbers and performance measures.”
The personnel situation in national wildlife refuges managed by FWS is even more dire. More than half of the national wildlife refuges no longer have their own manager. Hundreds of wildlife refuges have been “complexed” – collapsed into each other – and many have no staff at all.
In a 2017 PEER survey of all refuge managers, inadequate staffing was by far the number one concern, with more than 9 out of 10 saying that their refuges had already lost so much staff that they could no longer fulfill their “core conservation mission.”