We’ve already seen Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrestle with the near impossibility of firing government employees who are grossly deficient at their jobs or even convicted felons. That problem has been highlighted at the VA and the EPA, among other agencies, but now the problem as spread to the National Park Service. The agency drew the attention of the media when widespread reports of sexual harassment came to light, particularly at Grand Canyon National Park. And yet, despite all the attention it received, not a single person has been fired.
This story has played out so often that it’s not even worth a headline in the major newspapers these days, but the committee is still in there gamely trying to make some changes. (Government Executive)
Add the National Park Service to the list.
At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis joined the growing ranks of agency heads across government asking for more firing authority.
“I would certainly appreciate the willingness of the committee to work with us on some reform in this area because I do think it is a significant problem,” Jarvis told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which spent the majority of the hearing hounding the director for his agency’s failure to deal with employees accused of harassment.
Mr. Jarvis, the agency’s director, was admitting that he faced nearly insurmountable challenges in getting rid of the wrongdoers with all of the union protections baked into the cake.
Jarvis told the committee NPS had not terminated anyone as a result of the findings, lamenting the burdensome rules he must follow.
“It’s almost impossible to fire a federal employee,” said Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. Protecting civil servants from political maneuvering is a worthy goal, he added, but “it’s gone far beyond that in covering for people who haven’t done a good job.”
This sexual harassment scandal must be particularly odious on the hill because even the committee’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings, was suggesting that firings needed to happen and perhaps Jarvis should be the first one to go. Of course, Jarvis may be the wrong spokesman for such reforms since he’s already been in trouble himself. This past winter, Jarvis was called down on the carpet over accusations of ethics violations when he wrote and published a book about the country’s national parks. He had promised to direct all proceeds from the book back into making the parks better, but it was still a private transaction which landed him in hot water. Still, even he wasn’t fired. He received a reprimand, was removed from his own agency’s ethics committee and had to attend ethics training, but he kept his job.
Chaffetz was on fire yet again, referring to some of the agency’s employees as “scum” at one point. This led to discussions of how they might make changes similar to what was done at the VA, but nothing definite was decided. There was a time when I’d have been highly skeptical of any real change, but given what the committee has managed to accomplish at the Veterans Administration, who knows? Perhaps the National Park Service can be cleaned up a bit as well.