Washington, DC — The National Park Service has started using a political loyalty test for picking all its top civil service positions, according to an agency directive released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under the new order, all mid-level managers and above must also be approved by a Bush administration political appointee.
The October 11, 2005 order issued by NPS Director Fran Mainella requires that the selection criteria for all civil service management slots (Government Service grades or GS-13, 14 and 15) include the “ability to lead employees in achieving the …Secretary’s 4Cs and the President’s Management Agenda.” In addition, candidates must be screened by Park Service headquarters and “the Assistant Secretary [of Interior] for Fish, and Wildlife, and Parks,” the number three political appointee in the agency.
The order represents a complete centralization of Park Service promotion and hiring in what has traditionally been a decentralized agency. More strikingly, the order is an unprecedented political intrusion into what are supposed to be non-partisan, merit system personnel decisions.
The President’s Management Agenda includes controversial policies and proposals such as aggressive use of outsourcing to replace civil servants, reliance on “faith-based initiatives” and rollbacks of civil service rights. Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s “4Cs” is a slogan she uses to express her management approach: “4 Cs: communication, consultation, cooperation, all in the service of conservation.”
“It is outrageous that park superintendents must swear political loyalty to the Bush agenda and parrot hokey mottos in order to earn a promotion,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The merit system is supposed to be about ability, not apple polishing.”
The order applies to all hires for park superintendents, assistant superintendents and program managers, such as chief ranger or the head of interpretive or cultural programs. Overall, the policy applies to more than 1,000 mid-level management and supervisory positions in the Park Service.
“Presidents come and go but the civil service is designed to serve whoever occupies the swivel chair in the Oval Office,” Ruch added. “It is downright creepy that now every museum curator, supervising scientist and chief ranger must be okayed by a high-level political appointee.”