Obama notes prob­lems, not poor dis­ci­pline at na­tional parks

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVE BOYER

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 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 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.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Obama, who said ris­ing tem­per­a­tures are dam­ag­ing na­tional parks, has pro­posed a plan to boost the Na­tional Park Ser­vice’s an­nual fund­ing to $3.1 bil­lion.

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