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Mike Snyder, Intermountain Regional Director for the National Park Service, Opts for Retirement


Mike Snyder, the Intermountain regional director for the National Park Service, has decided to retire rather than take a reassignment. NPS photo.

Mike Snyder, the Intermountain regional director for the National Park Service who became a controversial figure over his "core ops" approach to budgeting, has decided to retire rather than take a reassignment.

Mr. Snyder announced his plans in a blog posted on the Park Service's intranet.

Mike Snyder's Blog: So long IMR family: I will leave you with a smile

On Monday of this week I traveled to Phoenix for a meeting on the Glen Canyon Dam and how its management affects the Grand Canyon. When I checked into my hotel, there was a fax waiting for me at the front desk. The fax was from the Director, telling me that I was being reassigned, effective in 15 days, to a compliance job in the Denver Service Center.

As you all know, being in the Senior Executive Service means that you can be reassigned at any time. It is something that all of us in that position understand. After the job here as Regional Director, though, I don’t think any other job can measure up in terms of the people you get to work with, the issues that engage you, and the places you get to go. So, I have decided to retire. My retirement date is March 2.

Laura Joss will be the acting Regional Director effective February 17. I know that all of you will work closely with her, support her, and keep carrying on the good work you are doing on behalf of the parks and the NPS mission.

A while back I wrote a blog in which I began with the line “So much of being successful depends on our initial approach and attitude” and ended it with “…every change in life requires a change in thinking.” I will apply that simple logic to the change that I am about to make. This is a new beginning and I am looking forward to all that lies ahead.

I want all of you to know how proud I am of the work you have accomplished for the National Park Service, and how much I enjoyed working with you. We have been through a lot together, and I have always been impressed by the professionalism, dedication and creativity of the people in this region.

As I look back on a long career with the NPS, I feel blessed to have been part of carrying out our mission and to have been able to work with so many talented people. I leave here with a smile, happy to have had such challenging and fulfilling work. Please take care of yourselves, and think first of the safety of your colleagues and friends. I hope our paths will cross again.


The above "resume" statement is accurate. Just to add to it, Mike came to the NPS from having worked for some years (do not know how many) for the US Forest Service...I think in Wyoming.

I wonder, was the Intermountain Region the only NPS Region affected by a heavy-handed style of upper management decision-making? If so, it would be very interesting to learn what were the factors that allowed Mr. Snyder to survive for so long in the NPS, without the same factors affecting other regions and other park units as well?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Regarding Mr. Hoffman's comment: An atmosphere of fear and mistrust has been the reality in the NPS for some time now. The comment above which expressed a climate of workplace fear and employee survival can be found in many regions and parks. Try SER, NCR and HFC for starters.

The NPS is in a period of excessive politicization, fueled by the politics of personal achievement or destruction. Which side you find yourself on is largely dependent upon circumstance and the ethics of those in your leadership chain. And, we have all experienced the quality of NPS leadership, so no explanations necessary.

As to why this is allowed to exist, you need look no farther than the destructive politics and workplace realities of today's NPS. It can be dangerous to take a stand. Once management direction on any subject is established, right or wrong, the troops fall in line - or risk getting destroyed. Its that bad. A climate which encourages dissenting opinion is hard to find.

How can a quality science-based NPS program of high integrity flourish if dissenting opinion is suppressed?

Owen Hoffman
Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Who said this outfit was flourishing?

Perhaps with the departure of Mr. Snyder and others of his ilk, a little more flourishing will be able to occur. Getting rid of a few more of the GS-14 and GS-15 positions in the Regional Offices (who do little other than travel to unconstructive meetings) and sending that money on down to the parks where it is needed, would also help move us to "flourishing."

Isn't it really telling that all this newly shared horror about Mike Snyder and the lack of leadership, not only in IMR but across the system comes out in a blog on NPT? There are scores of others in NPS, right now, working for supervisors who should NEVER be allowed to oversee any human being. At all levels, we are full up with incompetent, anti-social, anti-people managers who impede our forward motion and who seem to thrive on controling the fate of our most talented and creative individuals.

Our unit went through the A-76 (Competitive Sourcing) process, then through CoreOps. Both were very difficult, but CoreOps was worse because it was more capricious and less well-thought-out (read professional) and far less developed as a management initiative. I think the development of a Performance Work Statement for park unit activities (under A-76) is a GREAT thing. It makes everyone think _explicitly_ about the tasks they do, why the do them, how they do them, what the results are, and how long they take. We had a small professional team (with experience in PWS development in the Army) that came in and interviewed all employees, characterized and described all the work, and wrote it up as a series of tasks and annual goals. We could then assign hours to the tasks---like professional attorneys, accountants, doctors, etc.---and actually evaluate how much time we spent on tasks, determine whether we made our goals efficiently, and MANAGE the tasks we did based on real data. This type of activity happens all the time in private businesses. It is a key to transparency and accountability, especially when professionals are paid $25-$80 per hour.

When the A-76 team came to me, I told the Delta Solutions A-76 contractors that I thought that this type of management initiative was just a way of NPS managers avoiding the hardest part of managing---i.e. limiting staff growth, dealing with under-producing and off-task staff members, and addressing conduct and performance problems with direct reports. It is a chicken-sh*t way of management. I suggested that NPS managers needed to have the courage to manage by doing preliminary evaluations of park staffing levels and tasks and making changes---reductions if they were called for---administratively before pushing all staff in a park unit through this type of personnel meat-grinder. I don't know if what I said sunk in, but pretty soon after that the Preliminary Planning Effort initiative was "rolled-out".

When we were pushed through CoreOps, it felt like a ham-handed, poor cousin of A-76. Dividing activities into Core, Support to Core, and non-related to Core? Come on! I can walk without my left leg (it would only be "support to core"), but... Because we had already gone through A-76, we could only identify 1 FTE of work out of 45 that was not Core or Support to Core.

The real keys to productivity and caring for park resources are inter-personnel. Do my team members (in the 360 management sense) show the highest levels of accomplishment and responsibility (fiscal and otherwise)? Can I trust them to always do the legal, moral, and ethical thing? Can this responsibility be accomplished at a lower level with fewer "approvals", but with mano-a-mano accountability? Do my employees and colleagues know their job? Can they learn or teach themselves what they don't know? Do they need help? Is this the easiest legal way to do this task? Can it be done with fewer steps?

Unfortunately, a large percentage of middle and upper management in the NPS got to their positions by not "rocking the boat," by being the "friend of XXX," or being "experienced". But they haven't fired someone for poor performance, or relieved someone for conduct problems. I remember being interviewed for a VERY prestigious position in Washington and being asked "Normally this position is for staff with 12-15 years experience, what makes you think that you are ready for it (I had 8 years in the NPS at the time)?" Doesn't my Ph.D., supervisory experience, ability to gather recommendations from 3 regional directors in two days, etc. tell you why I'm ready? Are you kidding?! Well, when the rising talent with OUTSTANDING credentials, evaluations, drive, mission-commitment, and skills are not selected on merit, it guarantees a future of mediocrity and eventual obsolescence. Stephen Mather did not have a breakdown, work countless nights, drive himself and his family to distraction, and drive Congress and various administrations to distraction, to see a gang of gutless appointees and climbers fritter away the legacy. It is time for courage, mission commitment, teamwork, action, and resourcefulness.

I look at jobs in other agencies, but I always look in the NPS first because it is a mission I 95% believe in---although the siren-song of a Pinchot-ian conservation ethic is tempting sometimes. But it is discouraging to see the weakness we have in upper management. If Mike Snyder had been courageous, he would have taken the call from Director Jarvis. Jarvis shouldn't have had to fax a re-assignment. The current Grand Canyon superintendent, when he was Deputy Director, dared to say that we should do "less-with-less" and was "demoted" less than 3 months later. The message has been clear from the top (OMB/DOI/NPS appointees)---CONFORM or suffer. It needs to be equally clear from the bottom---WE WILL ALWAYS GATHER OUR ALLIES AND FIGHT FOR THE MISSION---top to bottom at the risk of our jobs, if necessary. I believe that the American People love the parks because we have generally protected their valuable resources well. We forget that fact at our peril.

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