The chief of the National Park Service knew his book project would be squelched by agency ethics officers, so he went ahead and wrote it anyway without bothering to ask for permission, investigators said Thursday in a report detailing a striking level of negligence.
The Interior Department, which oversees the park service, said it will issue a reprimand to Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, and said he’s too tainted to oversee his agency’s ethics policies for the rest of his time in office.
Ironically, Mr. Jarvis’ book was titled a “Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks.”
He wrote the book for Eastern National, a nonprofit that also operates bookstores in many of the country’s national parks — operations that Mr. Jarvis was overseeing even as he worked for the company, the Interior Department’s inspector general said.
When interviewed, Mr. Jarvis admitted he knew he would probably get “in trouble” for pushing ahead, but said he figured ethics officers would have made him go through so much red tape that his book would never be published — so instead he ignored the rules.
“Jarvis stated during his first interview that [his chief of staff] had advised him that he should obtain advice from the Ethics Office on the book, but he never did,” the inspector general said. “Jarvis explained that he was frustrated with the Ethics Office for not being able to approve ‘very, very simple things.’”
The director appeared to mislead his superiors in the Interior Department and his colleagues at the Park Service, telling them he was sure there were no ethics issues and that he’d been asked to write the book, when in fact he had feared ethics issues, and he had approached Eastern National about the book.
Mr. Jarvis also initially withheld an incriminating email to that effect from investigators, the inspector general said.
And the director approved use of a National Park Service logo, telling investigators the book publisher had a deal that allowed it to use official insignia. No such documentation exists, investigators said.
In a statement Thursday, Mr. Jarvis was chastened.
“I regret that I did not seek guidance on the most appropriate path forward to publish this book,” he said — though he insisted it was for a good cause. “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.”
Interior Department Deputy Secretary Michael Connor said he’s given Mr. Jarvis a talking-to, and is satisfied the director has learned his lesson.
“I will issue a written reprimand to Director Jarvis, he will be relieved of his responsibility to manage the NPS ethics program for the remainder of his tenure as director, and he will be required to attend monthly ethics training,” Mr. Connor wrote in a letter to the inspector general.
Mr. Jarvis is no stranger to controversy, having clashed with Congress over the way he handled the 2013 partial government shutdown.
Lawmakers said Mr. Jarvis appeared to be making the shutdown as difficult as possible for taxpayers, including trying to keep World War II veterans from being able to get to the open-air memorial dedicated to their service on the National Mall.
Images of wheelchair-bound veterans busting into the taped-off memorial became a lasting symbol of the administration’s handling of the shutdown.
In this latest investigation Mr. Jarvis said he was trying to get the book done in time for this year, which is the 100th anniversary of the start of the park service. He said he feared the ethics office would move so slowly his project wouldn’t get done.
He said he tried to arrange his book deal so he got nothing out of it, and asked that profits from the sales be shipped to the National Park Foundation, which supports the service.
In the event, it’s unlikely there will be any profits. Eastern National published 2,500 copies of the book, but had sold just 228 at the time of the probe. The company told investigators it wouldn’t make its money back.