‘Frustrated’ NPS official strikes back before House hearing

By Corbin Hiar | 06/13/2016 06:54 AM EDT

Which National Park Service director will show up at this week’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on misconduct at the NPS: the Jonathan Jarvis who apologized to Park Service employees for pursuing a book deal without going through the Interior Ethics Office, or the Jarvis who boasted to the agency’s Office of Inspector General that "I’ve gotten my ass in trouble many, many, many times"?

The hearing comes as ethical problems with Jarvis and other top NPS officials highlighted by the OIG are casting a shadow over celebrations of the Park Service’s 100th anniversary and generating complaints on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, some NPS officials are not waiting to find out how the director will respond to congressional scrutiny.

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Devils Tower National Monument Superintendent Timothy Reid, whose controversial promotion last year is a focus of the committee, reached out to E&E Daily last week in an attempt to clear his name.

"I’m a little frustrated," he said, referring to the way the media and lawmakers have interpreted an OIG report that found Reid had violated the agency’s housing policy while serving in his previous job as chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park (E&ENews PM, March 14). "This thing has morphed into fiction, and these things just get carried on and carried on."

The new superintendent took issue in particular with what he described as a "molar crackingly offensive and false" synopsis of the report offered at a hearing last month by Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who is chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations (E&E Daily, May 25).

In his opening statement, Gohmert suggested that the former chief ranger had improperly benefited from his position and referred to one instance in which Reid’s wife had briefly put up in the Yellowstone apartment a French couple who were supposed to stay in her bed-and-breakfast. The chairman also claimed there was a "steady stream of guests" using Reid’s government housing, even though the OIG found just 19 individuals who had stayed there over a five-year period.

"Unless the Park Service wants corruption in its agency, it makes no sense to then promote this man to be superintendent of Devils Tower National Monument with full knowledge that he has acted in such an unethical behavior," Gohmert concluded.

But Reid underscored that the report clearly says none of the "guests provided compensation to Reid and his wife." Furthermore, his bosses were fully aware of the situation, the report found.

The scandal-stung superintendent also offered explanations for why he put up some of the guests, which were left out by the OIG for some reason. The French couple, he claimed, were experts in emergency medicine, friends with the Yellowstone medical director and were interested in learning more about the "wilderness medicine paradigm."

The guests who stayed for longer than a week at his former apartment were, according to Reid, NPS employees and their families. One employee had to leave mold-damaged government housing, and another was in the process of moving to another park, he said.

"This is not an ethics or a corruption report or issue," he added. "I understand politics and that I am not even an electron in the system. I am nothing, a very small fish. But I still have nearly 30 years of incredibly dedicated performance."

Jarvis is unlikely to strike as strident of a tone when he and Mary Kendall, who leads the OIG, appear before House lawmakers tomorrow morning. The director would much rather focus on the NPS centennial, which the agency hopes will spur lawmakers to support an NPS spending bill inching its way through Congress.

In addition to Reid’s report, Jarvis will probably face questions about four other OIG investigations that Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) singled out in a letter to Kendall. He requested unredacted versions and supporting documents for investigations of sexual harassment by river boat guides at the Grand Canyon, misuse of the Brinkerhoff Lodge by top Obama administration officials, purchases of military-grade weapons by a park ranger at the Mojave National Preserve and Jarvis’ unauthorized book deal with an NPS concessionaire (Greenwire, June 3).

The purpose of the hearing, according to committee spokeswoman MJ Henshaw, is to examine how NPS "handles cases of misconduct and unethical behavior" and to review ways the agency can "increase accountability for wrongdoing."

The director is also likely to be asked about the leadership of Canaveral National Seashore in central Florida. Three separate IG reports in the past four years have raised concerns about the actions of top park officials. A 2012 investigation and another disclosed earlier this month found three instances of Canaveral employees improperly splitting the cost of credit card purchases to apparently avoid going through fair and open contracting procedures.

Chief Ranger Edwin Correa, who the OIG said used a series of card charges to improperly outfit a law enforcement patrol vehicle, also may have violated NPS ethics policy by trolling a Canaveral whistleblower who raised concerns about the split purchases in the comment section of a local newspaper, according to an OIG report from earlier this year (Greenwire, Jan. 28).

Yet both Correa and his boss, Superintendent Myrna Palfrey-Perez, are still in charge of the park. They are among more than a dozen NPS employees singled out in publicly released IG reports or internal investigations of park mismanagement during Jarvis’ time in office who are still employed at the agency, according to a recent Greenwire analysis (Greenwire, June 7).

Schedule: The hearing is Tuesday, June 14, at 10 a.m. in 2154 Rayburn.

Witnesses: NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis and Interior Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall.