National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis late last week apologized to the agency’s roughly 20,000 employees, acknowledging he made "an error in judgment" by failing to consult with the Interior Department’s ethics office before publishing a book with a nonprofit group that operates stores in numerous national parks.
"I made an error in judgment for which I want to apologize," Jarvis wrote in an email last Friday. "I am sorry that I let you down. I have also apologized to the Secretary."
A report released in February by Interior’s Office of Inspector General found that Jarvis had intentionally avoided seeking approval from Interior’s Departmental Ethics Office before writing the "Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks" (Greenwire, Feb. 26).
Published in June 2015 by Eastern National, the operator of 138 national park stores, the $7.95 book was intended to raise awareness about NPS’s 2016 centennial and bring in money for the National Park Foundation, a nonprofit that raises funds for NPS.
By not seeking ethics advice, Jarvis violated federal employee ethics standards, Interior concluded. Jarvis was stripped of his responsibility to oversee NPS’s ethics program and is being required to attend monthly ethics training sessions for the remainder of his tenure.
During the IG investigation, Jarvis said he felt that writing the book was fine as long as it was on his own time and said that the ethics office is slow to the point of not being able to approve "very, very simple things." But Jarvis also told the IG, "I’ve gotten my ass in trouble many, many, many times in the Park Service by … not necessarily getting permission."
Jarvis last week told employees he had "failed to initially understand and accept my mistake" and regrets not seeking guidance from the ethics office.
"I wrote a book to celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial without appropriate appreciation and regard for my responsibility to follow established processes," he said. "I have been held accountable and I have learned a valuable lesson."
His letter came just days after the OIG report was spotlighted at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on ethics lapses at Interior.
Mary Kendall, who leads OIG, told the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that preventing ethics missteps "begins at the top."
"Consistent messaging by senior leadership — or in other words, ‘the tone at the top’ — must provide a clear message of what behavior is expected," she said in written remarks.
Jarvis seems to have taken that to heart.
"It is important that each and every National Park Service employee, including me, understand, remember, and adhere to our ethics training and requirements," he wrote last week. "I write this note as a reminder to all of us to think actively about consulting with appropriate ethics officials or attorneys in the Solicitor’s Office before taking actions that could have ethical or legal implications."
The aim of his book was to "inspire and engage more Americans in our national parks and share my great love and admiration for the amazing places you protect and promote each day," he continued.
Proceeds will benefit NPS through Eastern National and the NPF, Jarvis said, adding that he has donated the copyright to the NPF.
His ethics oversight position has been passed along to Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Karen Hyun.