- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2016

President Obama took his family to two national parks over Father’s Day weekend, in part to highlight the threat of global warming, while the National Park Service is drawing attention to a different kind of climate — an atmosphere of sexual harassment and mismanagement.

The Obamas visited Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and then flew to California to tour Yosemite, the country’s oldest national park, to mark the 100th anniversary of the park system. The president said rising temperatures are damaging national parks.

“Climate change is no longer just a threat. It’s already a reality,” Mr. Obama said Saturday near Yosemite Falls. “Rising temperatures could mean no more glaciers at Glacier National Park. No more Joshua trees at Joshua Tree National Park.”

Mr. Obama has set aside over 265 million acres, more public lands and water systems than any other president in history. During his two terms, he has added 22 sites to the National Park System under the Antiquities Act, often over the objections of Republicans and Western lawmakers, who say the administration brushes aside concerns of landowners, ranchers and other private citizens.

The White House said Mr. Obama is not finished setting aside land for conservation.

More protected territory requires more funding to maintain it. In his budget for fiscal 2017, the president has proposed a 9 percent increase to boost the National Park Service’s annual funding to $3.1 billion.

The Park Service and its allies say the increase is needed to handle record numbers of tourists, to hire more staff and to address a nearly $12 billion maintenance backlog.

But Congress may not look favorably on the administration’s funding request if a House hearing last week with Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis is any indication.

Lawmakers on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee slammed Mr. Jarvis‘ leadership, including his failure to discipline employees who have engaged in wrongdoing.

In the latest embarrassing episode disclosed by the Interior Department’s inspector general, the chief park ranger at Canaveral National Seashore in Florida sexually harassed women on his staff in three substantiated cases in less than two years.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, expressed disgust when Mr. Jarvis testified that the ranger, Edwin Correa, is still working at the park.

“How many sexual harassments does it take to fire a federal worker?” Mr. Chaffetz said. “Three substantiated allegations, and he still works there? The guy should be arrested. What does that say to the women? Your leadership is lacking.”

Mr. Jarvis said Mr. Correa’s commission has been removed. Mr. Chaffetz was unimpressed.

“You should at least try to fire him, but you don’t do any of that,” the lawmaker said. “So don’t complain that the system is failing you. You’re failing the system.”

Interior Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said the Park Service hasn’t fired any employees in recent cases of misconduct investigated by her office. Those cases include a violation of Park Service policy by the former chief ranger of Yellowstone National Park, who allowed 19 family members and friends to live for months in his government apartment. He was transferred to another job within the Park Service.

“The department does not do well in holding employees accountable who engage in misconduct,” Ms. Kendall said. “Often, management avoids discipline altogether.”

Much like the Department of Veterans Affairs’ failure to punish employees for wrongdoing, Mr. Jarvis said, civil service rules provide strong protections for federal employees appealing disciplinary actions.

“I don’t have the power in most cases to fire these employees,” he said.

Mr. Jarvis said he would like to have more authority to discipline employees, but he didn’t appear to help his cause when he acknowledged to Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, that he didn’t know the Park Service reached settlements this month with two women who sued over sexual harassment in a long-running scandal at Grand Canyon National Park.

“Wouldn’t you want to know that?” Mr. Cummings asked. “What kind of management is that?”

Then there is the book Mr. Jarvis wrote this year that resulted in a reprimand for ignoring the agency’s ethics rules. He told investigators that he knew ethics officers would reject his book, “Guidebook to American Values and Our National Parks,” so he wrote it without asking for permission.

He wrote the book for Eastern National, a nonprofit that operates bookstores in many national parks — operations that Mr. Jarvis was overseeing at the same time, the inspector general’s report said. Mr. Jarvis gave up his role providing ethics guidance for the agency and had to attend ethics training.

Mr. Cummings said, “It seems to me you really had an utter disregard for the ethics rules.”

Against that backdrop of turmoil and mismanagement, more people are visiting the National Park System than ever before.

The Interior Department said Friday that about 443 million people visited national parks, wildlife refuges, national monuments and other public lands last year.

“Much of the value of our lands and historic sites cannot be expressed in dollars,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. “Beyond their contributions to clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat, many are priceless treasures that belong to all Americans and help define our cultural heritage for present and future generations.”


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