Washington, DC — Despite a promise to cut agency travel expenses, the Director of the National Park Service is on the road almost constantly in a quest to visit every unit of the national park system, according to records released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
During her nearly three-year tenure as NPS Director, Fran Mainella has toured more than 135 national parks, monuments and historic sites. Mainella has repeatedly expressed her desire to visit all 388 units of the system.
At a contentious March 25 hearing of the House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the NPS budget, Mainella promised to curtail agency travel expenses that had ballooned to more than $44 million last year. Mainella’s pledge to reduce travel came amid criticism of the Park Service for budget shortfalls that are threatening to cut visitor services at parks across the country.
“During normal times, no one would begrudge an agency director going out into the field to learn about agency operations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who noted that many of the Mainella visits are brief “grip and grin” stopovers that staff call “Fran’s Hop and Stops.” “The whirlwind nature of her visits precludes any meaningful interaction, understanding or oversight. Rather than boost morale, her ‘show the flag’ campaign merely feeds resentment by employees who are straining to do more with less.” Since her March 25 congressional testimony when she pledged to cut unnecessary travel –
- Mainella, frequently accompanied by staff, family members and Interior officials, has traveled virtually every week to a new park venue;
- The costs of accommodating the Director and her entourage have further taxed over-matched local park budgets; and
- While Mainella has traveled intensively, travel for field staff training, conferences and other events have been slashed. For example, the Park Service initially declined to send its traditional honor guard to Washington, DC for Police Memorial Week in May due to the new no-travel policy. The decision was reversed after an outcry from the families of slain law enforcement officers.
“In asking the park system to make sacrifices, Director Mainella should consider leading by example,” added Ruch.
This week, Director Mainella will travel to Boston and visit Boston-area parks. She will also meet with the editorial board of the Boston Globe. Next week, she will travel to South Dakota to visit Wind Cave, Jewel Cave, Badlands and Mount Rushmore National Parks.