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A View From The Overlook: Peter And Paul


My previous column, “How do you get a permanent job with the NPS,” provoked a great deal of reader comment. (Had your humble correspondent mentioned the words “guns” or “mountain biking,” the rate of comment would have been even higher!)

We are pleased that everyone remained “on subject.” No one went off on a tangent, wondering if Your Correspondent was a Communist, or even possibly a Democrat. (Well, hardly anyone.) The comments were well-reasoned and well-written, showing a great deal of thought, effort and, sadly, anguish.

It seems that there are too many well-qualified candidates chasing too few NPS permanent jobs. A matter of supply and demand. Conversely, if you are a graduate of a medical school, ANY medical school, and can pass the boards, chances are you will be doctoring somewhere. Not true in the case of Public Land Management graduates.

So what can be done to balance NPS permanent jobs and candidates?

One of our commenters, a Social Darwinist named “Zebulon,” made the happy suggestion that NPS salaries be reduced to the point where it is difficult (but not impossible) to find any applicants for NPS jobs and thus a balance would be achieved.

My own suggestion would be expand both the staffing and the number of units of the NPS. (Knowing Congress and the Tea Party, the former rather than the latter suggestion is the one most likely to be adopted!)

So, how does one get a permanent job with the NPS?

Eccentric Millionaires Program

Well, there are several “Minority Preferment Programs.” My hands-down favorite is the “Eccentric Millionaire Program.”

“Millionaires are a minority?’’ you ask, incredulous.

Yes, and a despised and persecuted one, neighbor! Consider the poor Koch brothers; hardly a day passes without some left-wing fanatic demanding that something bad happen to these enterprising orphans! It’s only fair that the NPS established “The Eccentric Millionaire’s Program” to fight prejudice against America’s smallest minority by hiring some of them!

“How long has this program been going on?” you ask, dumbstartled.

Since the very first! Stephen Mather, the borax king, was our first hire!

“But why 'eccentric?'” you inquire.

Well, you have to be a little bit crazy to spend your own time and money on a government agency, but that’s exactly what Mather did. In fact, he got his friend, fellow millionaire, Horace Albright (potash), to join the program.

Understandably, hires under the “Eccentric Millionaires Program” are rather rare, but they do happen.

I recall two cases during my own career. Here’s one of them:

The first was at Bryce Canyon where I encountered the millionaire Chief of Interpretation, Jimmy Barnett. He had made a great deal of money as a self-made manufacturer at an early age. In between deals, he visited a national park and fell in love with “America’s Best Idea” and signed up. (Jimmy would good naturedly remark that his GS-12 salary just about paid the taxes on one of his factories) Jimmy was energetic, innovative and creative, as one would expect of a millionaire. He was also kind, helpful and charming, not always the attributes of a millionaire.

He had one disconcerting habit, however. (Disconcerting at least to the park superintendent). One of most enduring rituals of the NPS is the annual divying up of the pot of money that Congress allocates to each park for operating expenses. This ritual allows each division chief to show the superintendent just how shrewd and Machiavellian he/she could be in moving money around and subtracting money from the program of less articulate division chiefs.

Jimmy refused to play the game. When dolefully told that there was not enough money to fund certain of his interpretive projects, he would cheerfully say, “That’s OK! I’ll fund it out of my own pocket!” And, backed by his Daddy Warbucks fortune, he would write a check for the difference.

Any Other Minority Preferment Programs?

Are there other minority preferment programs? Yep! Nearly every historically persecuted minority can go to the head of the NPS employment line, and, given American history, that is potentially quite a few people. (Now there are those who claim that “Rednecks” have been a persecuted minority since that unfortunate day at Appomattox, but this is more a class issue than racial or ethnic.)

Is reverse discrimination in employment fair? It depends. As George Bernard Shaw once famously observed, “He who robs Peter to pay Paul will get no objection from Paul.”

However, the NPS is now getting vociferous objections from “Peter” (“Peter” being a member of the rapidly dwindling White majority who desires a permanent position with the National Park Service.)

“Peter’s” desire for permanent employment conflicts (at least temporarily) with the NPS desire for “Diversity in The Workplace;” that is, “Faces like America’s” on its Federal Work Force.

In order to get more “Pauls” into the NPS workplace, the Park Service has decided to nurture them in career choices by subsidizing a program called “Pro Ranger” that would provide basic skills training in being a law enforcement ranger with the all-important proviso that there would be a permanent job in the NPS awaiting the “Pauls” who completed the program.

While the NPS did not come right out and say that the program was a minority hire program, one of the participants, Philadelphia’s Temple University (Alma Mater of Bill Cosby) has a large “Inner City” population (Code word for “Black”, neighbors).

A second “Pro Ranger” participant is San Antonio College in the Texas City of that name. San Antonio College has a very large “Hispanic” population (Code word for Mexican).

The third “Pro Ranger” participant is Browning Junior College located on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation in Montana (The various “Peters” can be excused for suspecting that the selection of Browning Junior College was not entirely coincidental).

As yet, the NPS has not tapped the Asian community. (May we suggest either Honolulu Community College or Hawaii Community College in Hilo?)

Is this fair? Well, no.

Life Is Not Fair

However, as JFK once observed, “Life is not fair.”

It is not the fault of the modern-day “Peters” that there was historic discrimination against “Pauls,” resulting in a diversity problem in the National Park Service and that the “Peters” are understandably outraged that they should be made to suffer.

On the other hand, just as the courts have recognized that “Separate but equal” was not really equal, the NPS has come to the conclusion that “Equal Opportunity” is not as equal as it seems. True, “Paul “ is allowed to enter the competition, but “Peter” has a quarter-mile headstart due to cultural advantages; that is, an orientation toward the national parks and/or the Outdoors. “Peter’s” parents took him camping in the summer and skiing in the winter. There may have been riding lessons or “Peter” may have grown up on a ranch, or in various national parks, an experience highly unlikely for a “Paul.” “Peter’s” family may have owned a boat and “Peter” learned useful boating skills, including SCUBA. “Peter” would not be a bit shy about mentioning being a mountain climbing instructor on his resume, nor would his presence on the county SAR team be forgotten.

In short, “Peter” possesses a package of skills that puts “Paul” in the shade, skills acquired at no cost to the NPS. Who should we hire?

Well now, in a country with no history of discrimination, say Iceland for example, the answer would be “Peter.” Alas! We Americans are stuck with the baggage of our history, and the NPS has chosen to “jump start” the careers of some of the less obvious contenders for a permanent NPS position.

Understandably “Peter” cries “foul” and plays the Merit Card. “Peter” points out that he has put in years of hard work gaining Skills & Experience that “Paul” (through no fault of his own) simply does not possess. “Peter” claims to have more “Merit” than “Paul;” that is, bluntly, he is better than “Paul.”

Should “Merit” cast the deciding vote? It depends.

Consider the case of George “Dubya” Bush; an amiable, lovable lad, his merits were well-hidden, somewhere down below the Ordovician layer. 

Based on “merit” it would seem that “Dubya” would do best at a good community college. However, “Dubya” wanted to graduate from Yale like the rest of the Bush dynasty, and that is exactly what he did.

Now, as you know, Yale, like the rest of the Ivy League, is famed for its intellectual rigor. Indeed, if you get into an argument with a Yale graduate, you might as well roll over and die, because, sooner or later, the Yalie will drop the fact he/she is a Yale graduate and that is an argument ender. Or so it is believed.

So what happened to Merit? Well, in “Dubya’s case, it was judiciously balanced by Money & Power, those twin solvents of life’s problems.

The rest, as they say, is history. “Dubya” went on to become a very successful governor of Texas and two-term President of the United States. He really DID have Merit, it just wasn’t immediately discernable! (Think of “Dubya” as a pinhead-sized Sequoia seed finally growing into the largest tree in the world!)

Adjusting Merit

The same is true of the “Pro Ranger” candidates. Like “Dubya” most of them really do have Merit, but the Money & Power of the Federal Government must bring it out.

“BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!” roars “Peter.”

Of course it isn’t, but sometimes you have to “adjust” Merit, if you know what’s good for you.

Consider the case of the University of California at Berkeley. “Berkeley” is considered to be one of the more prestigious schools in America. A Berkeley degree is highly sought after by Asian students and their ambitious parents. The problem is that Asians generally make better students than white Americans; not necessarily smarter, but more disciplined and driven (think family). Therefore, if you are going to admit students to Berkeley based on “Merit” (grade point,) your student body is soon going to look like the cast of a Kung Fu movie or a Bollywood epic.

Since largely white taxpayers support Berkeley, they are going to wonder out loud why young Christopher or Jennifer has no chance of getting in. Thus, the Berkeley Admissions Office is faced with exactly the opposite of the NPS problem: How to keep minorities.

So, the Berkeley Administration “adjusted” the Merit selection. Grades and test scores are important, but so is being “well rounded." One should play a sport, particularly a team sport. Now the average Asian student is not good at games. Not good at games? Ah, you may substitute community service; have you rescued any dolphins or tigers lately? Haven’t? Pity! (Asians tend to be less interested in saving the whales and more interested in family.)

So you can see that even a prestigious university is not above gaming the system when it comes to “Merit.”


Oh, all right! Let’s see if we can’t make it a “win–win” situation.

“Peter” would like a permanent job, so would “Paul,”, and the NPS would like “Faces like America.” That is, diversity in the work place.

The U.S. population is currently (roughly) 68.4 percent White, 16.4 percent Mayan-Aztec, 12.6 percent African American, 4.6 percent Asian and 1.1 percent American Indian and Polynesian. (There is no such race as “Hispanic” and the use of Spanish surnames as weapons in the anti-discrimination wars is incorrect. Nobody discriminates against Cameron Diaz or Penelope Cruz, particularly after they put on their bikinis.)

So why not set aside 33 percent of prospective yearly new permanent slots for the accelerated “Pro Ranger Program,” a program that the NPS has spent a lot of time and money on after the stark realization that “Equal Opportunity” is not all that equal.

That leaves around 68 percent of the annual supply of permanent positions to be acquired by people (usually, but not always White) through successful completion of a series of seasonal employment assignments in different parks under the supervision of different managers (to avoid cronyism).

What if the Tea Party types prevail and there are few or no new permanent positions for the year? Not to worry. Both the “Pro Ranger” and the Seasonal Ranger Source (two different programs), could be given a “rain check” for the next year. (Seasonals are used to waiting, but they will be far more comfortable with a rain check.)

Would the programs be subject to gaming? You bet! I recall one person who gleefully told me how he “beat the system." The person was whiter than Sir Winston Churchill (Churchill was one quarter American Indian or a “quarter breed” as we used to say back home in politically incorrect South Dakota). Anyway, the guy in question got in on the “Asian” quota; if one of your parents or grandparents was Asian, then you qualified as an “Asian" and could check that block.

It turns out that the guy’s grandfather, a white man, had been born in Constantinople (Now Istanbul), which, if you look at a map is just across the Bosporus, in (technically) Asia. To avoid such duplicity in the future, the NPS will have to decide on (A) which minority group was actually historically discriminated against, and (B) require DNA testing to prove membership in the desired minority.

The seasonal employment route has its own set of pitfalls; One legendary chief of interpretation remarked that “Seasonals don’t have 20 years of experience; they’ve had the same experience 20 times." (Your correspondent does not necessarily agree with this but it may have some merit.) To avoid this, the seasonal experience will have to be varied and the person mentored if they elect to take the permanent track.

Considerable effort will be needed to make this fair to everyone.


Appears to be a little foggy on the overlook today.

Forget the social engineering. Give the job to the person that is best qualified. Period! That will best serve the mission of the NPS with the budget they are given.

I wonder why this excellent follow-up article by PJ Ryan has been posted in NPT as a "news" item that will fade from the front pages of National Parks Traveler with the passing of a day or so? Could it be that an open discussion of the four decades-long practice of social engineering to diversify the face of the NPS workforce might be considered too sensitive of a topic for this "A View from the Overlook" to be issued as a featured article?

I second Owen's motion. Move this to the top of the heap.

It's another gem from Thunderbear.

And while I don't agree with all of it, I do believe the Bear has hit squarely upon the nail's head. Hopefully some of his readers will be able to rise above the fog that clouds their understanding and actually do some serious thinking.

ecbuck, spoken like a true "Peter." Not that I totally disagree, but diversity in the parks would have its benefits too. Great writing PJ! this one will probably stir lots of opinions. I will bite my tongue but will enjoy reading both sides.

Terrific post PJ, presents the issue with the great satire and the good humor you lace your opinions pieces with. Much does boil down to who's ox is being gored. The current seasonal personnel need to make their voices heard, ANPR is a good place to start.

an open discussion of the four decades-long practice of social engineering to diversify the face of the NPS workforce

I agree that PJ does a nice job balancing (or gesturing toward) the complex issues involved in using decades of social engineering to rectify centuries of it. Nice comments, Owen et al.

involved in using decades of social engineering to rectify centuries of it.

Sorry, I just never saw the logic in discriminating to cure discrimination. If anything, it seems racist to believe that is necessary.

Nice article, PJ. Speaking as someone who has been a 'Peter' most of his life, and who is very sensitized to 'Paul's' plight, and also as someone who has no doubt benefitted by the privileges of appearing white, male, and straight for most of my life while also having lost jobs to and been managed by incompetents who were promoted due to their minority status... [sorry for that run-on mess of a summation], I have to simply agree that there are problems enough to go around and no easy or 'fair' solutions.

Using humor/satire to examine complex problems helps to keep the emotions down and makes the examination just a slight bit easier to confront. You've always done that well - the NPS's Jonathan Swift, if you will.

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