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Yosemite National Park Superintendent Resigns Amid Allegations


In a brief statement on Thursday, Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher announced his retirement as of November 1. In his resignation letter, Neubacher, 63, pointed to a number of accomplishments during his six years at the helm of one of the nation's most iconic parks, but says, "I regret leaving at this time, but want to do what's best for Yosemite National Park. Our employees, our park, and our partners are some of the best in the nation."

His announcement comes just a week after a Congressional hearing regarding harassment at a number of park units, including Yosemite. The House Oversight Committee Chairman, Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, described a hostile work environment at Yosemite, as the "result of the behavior and conduct of the park's superintendent." The committee said last week that over 20 Park Service staff had complained to them about the hostile environment, bullying, and sexual harrassment. During that hearing, four other National Park Service units were discussed as well, including Cape Canaveral National Seashore and Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks.

Yosemite National Park's Chief of Fire and Aviation Management, Kelly Martin, told the committee that there was a "hostile work environment in Yosemite where dozens of individuals have come forward with personal statements of demoralizing behavior to include acts of bullying, gender bias, and favoritism." She then described, as an example, an experience as the victim of a peeping tom at Grand Canyon.

Superintendent Neubacher, according to Chaffetz, did not agree with the assessment that his conduct was to blame. Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings said, "No employee in the federal civil service should ever be afraid to come to work."


Heaven forbid Jarvis ever resign, despite being asked to do so by many congress folks.  It's just his agency responsible for all this. Too embarassing for the NPS on their 100th anniv.

What's sad is that within rules and regulations of the National Park Service, there are well-defined procedures through which complaints should be heard and problems resolved.  But the procedures don't work, complaints are't recognized, and retaliation against anyone submitting a complaint or reporting a problem is more often the norm than the exception. And in the final analysis, victims are not protected, and those violating laws and regulations are not disciplined.  Probably everyone is beginning to notice a pattern---nothing happens unless the press and public media embarrass the Park Service (as happened finally to resolve years of sexual harrassment at Grand Canyon NP) or Congress begins to ask questions and publicizes a problem (as happened now in Yosemite.)  When will the NPS fulfill its responsibility to protect victims and Whistleblowers, and discpline those who violate laws and regulations? And if something doesn't change, does it mean different leaders are needed?

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell made a horrible mistake and sent exactly the wrong message when she gave NPS Director Jarvis a meaningless reprimand, but didn't fire him for the massive ethics violations which have occurred during his tenure.  Allowing a corrupt Director to preside over the NPS' 100th birthday is a travesty. 

I read that the PWR regional director said that Yosemite needed new leadership to move forward from these issues (true dat!), and offered Don Neubacher a position in the Denver Service Center, not in the PWR office in San Francisco where his wife works.  He retired instead.

Jarvis has already announced his retirement effective Jan 1, so his replacement will presumably await the next president.  With Dave Uberauga's resignation at Grand Canyon last July and now Don Neubacher, that's huge turnover in one cohort of leadership that came up through Ranger & LE, and 3 of the ~16 EX/ES grades.  I don't know them and am not attacking them for what they did over their careers, but I don't think they're the leadership required by NPS now and into the future.

Will they be replaced with same 'ole same 'ole, or folks with different perspectives and priorities?  If Jarvis is replaced from outside, will the replacement understand the mission & (good parts of) the culture of NPS and how to address a couple of major problems and make NPS better, or will they treat it as a less-well-funded equivalent to BLM or USFS?  I want to get back to Horace Albright's "Do not let the Service become just another executive government bureau".   But I want NPS to be _better_, not worse, than the average government bureau.  Will these be sufficient changes in leadership to make a difference?  Overall, I know of parks and programs where bullying & sexual harassment are not tolerated, and I know of others where both are entrenched.   Can any central leadership effect broad change, or will change happen one park fiefdom at a time, and only due to public exposure & pressure?  Can NPS survive 5 or 10 or 20 individual flagship park public scandals?

I'm curious about what other current employees thought, but I found the new NPS Sexual Harassment training lame & minimalist (online training it took 17 minutes to complete & pass).  It was restricted to just the law: no relationships or improper interactions within the chain of command & supervision (including indirect influence on job assignments & promotions), no sustained actions by anyone creating a hostile work environment, no retaliation for complaints, and how to make complaints.  beschundler is right: that is necessary and would be an improvement from how many parks operate.  But that really isn't enough.  There was nothing about treating fellow employees with respect while at work, the fundamental behind "microaggressions" and bullying. There was nothing about how to make a team work well with only 1 or 2 women (or minorities, or folks with different background & skills): how to get cooperation and the best out of everybody.  Perhaps the diversity & teams stuff is taught to supervisors in DOIlearn leadership (perhaps), but for all the small leaderless ad hoc teams out in the field, everyone needs the training.  Does anyone have a more favorable reaction to the training?

"There was nothing about ....the fundamental behind "microaggressions" and bullying"
I see part of the problem. If I hear the term micro aggression one more time I'm going to vomit. Welcome to the real world where life is sometimes unfair and imperfect. I'm not close enough to say how big a problem moral or harassment is in the parks but have been around long enough to know there are always employees who cry over nothing, are never satisfied and who themselves create a hostile work environment where people fear offending some fragile ego. Those worried about "micro aggressions" would rise to the top of that list and need to grow up.

Our Natinal Park Service is in full meltdown. Instead of being recognized for its remarkable 100th anniversay, the 2016 legacy will reveal a mismanaged organization with a toxic culture. How many more stories must come out about gross misconduct by park service leaders before there is a real culture change? How does Jonathan Jarvis keep his job?

Morale within the NPS is bad and getting worse, according to friends who still work for the agency.  The "Best Places to Work in the Federal Government" survey results from recent years give a clear picture of an agency in trouble and decline.  This problem is much worse than "Employees who cry over nothing, are never satisfied", etc.  The National Park Service has a lot of dedicated and talented employees who are being let down by corrupt management.


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