National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis is being stripped of his responsibility to oversee the agency’s ethics program after publishing an unauthorized book with a nonprofit group that operates stores in numerous national parks.
He will also receive a written reprimand for having violated federal employee ethics standards and be required to attend monthly ethics trainings for the remainder of his tenure, Deputy Interior Secretary Michael Connor said.
Connor’s actions come in response to a report released late yesterday by Interior’s Office of Inspector General that found Jarvis intentionally avoided seeking approval from Interior’s Ethics Office before writing "Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks."
Published in June 2015 by Eastern National, the operator of 138 national park stores, the 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. Jarvis took the unusual step of asking Eastern National to grant him the copyright for the book but told the OIG he intended to donate it to the foundation.
"Although the [OIG’s report of investigation] does not expressly draw any conclusions about the results of the OIG investigation, the Department has reviewed the ROI [report of investigation] carefully and come to the conclusion that Director Jarvis did violate Federal employee ethics standards," Connor said in a letter Tuesday to Mary Kendall, who leads the OIG.
Connor also told Kendall that he is "concerned about the attitude the ROI demonstrates Director Jarvis exhibited toward important Department institutions such as the Ethics Office, the Office of Solicitor and the Office of the Secretary."
In addition to the copyright issue, the report raised concerns about the way in which Jarvis informed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell about his work on the project. He did so by putting a copy of the published book in her mailbox with a note that said Eastern National had approached him to write it.
But emails provided to the OIG by George Minnucci, Eastern National’s chief executive officer, show that Jarvis emailed the nonprofit first with the book idea, which is based on a speech he has delivered many times over the years about values and the parks that demonstrate them.
When confronted by the OIG about that email to Minnucci — Jarvis’ friend of more than 20 years — the director "stated that not providing the email ‘wasn’t purposeful,’ adding that he had searched his emails but did not find this one," the report said.
The OIG also "informed Jarvis that it appeared that his note to the Secretary, which stated that Eastern National had asked him to write the book, was not accurate." His response, according to the report, was "I guess that’s true."
So far, the book hasn’t benefited Eastern National or the foundation.
It cost Eastern National over $11,000 to print, publish and distribute 2,500 copies of the book, which retails for $7.95. The nonprofit company agreed to donate $1 per book sold to the foundation, in quarterly increments.
But the guidebook has sold 228 copies to date, earning Eastern National less than $2,000. The company also hasn’t cut a check to the foundation yet for the $228 it is due.
Nevertheless, the arrangement Jarvis established between Eastern National and the foundation could be a violation of the law.
"Government employees cannot receive compensation from outside sources for teaching, speaking, or writing that relates to their official duties," the report noted. "This prohibition extends to funds paid directly to a charitable organization at the employee’s request."
A calculated risk for Jarvis
Jarvis, for his part, was careful to mainly work on the book during holidays, weekends and snow days.
"I felt there was nothing wrong with it as long as I did this on my own time," he told the OIG.
But Jarvis said he was wary of involving Interior’s Ethics Office because it is not able to approve "very, very simple things." The office took six weeks to greenlight a thank-you letter from him to a foundation donor, he told the OIG as an example.
Jarvis also raised concerns that higher-ups would object to some of the things he wrote about immigration, women’s rights and civil rights.
"What I was trying to prevent is having it edited," he said, according to the report.
In an interview with the OIG, the director was unrepentant. Jarvis said that looking back, he "probably" would have done the same things.
"I think I knew going into this there was a certain amount of risk. I’ve never been afraid of a risk," he told the OIG. "I’ve gotten my ass in trouble many, many, many times in the Park Service by … not necessarily getting permission."
The bottom line for Jarvis, however, was that "this values analysis … could be a very, very powerful tool to not only connect to the next generation but to resonate across political spectrums," he said. "And it could be a little bit of something that I could give back to the Park Service, to the Foundation, sort of set the bar in a place that I feel that it needs to be for our second century."
In a statement provided to Greenwire today, however, the director took a more remorseful tone.
"I regret that I did not seek guidance on the most appropriate path forward to publish this book," he said. "I wrote the book to inspire and engage more Americans in our national parks, particularly during the National Park Service’s centennial year. I consider it a good lesson learned and will ask for guidance if and when similar situations arise in the future."