Is it Time for Jon Jarvis to Retire?

For five hours today, National Park Service Chief Jonathan Jarvis was grilled by members of the U.S. House of Representatives. House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa of California was particularly harsh on Jarvis, arguing that “I believe he should resign. But the better term is I think he should retire because he no longer serves the public interest.”

Jarvis was charged with immediately shutting down 401 National Parks by October 1. Of the 300 staff members who work at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., all but 12 were furloughed. Parks don’t operate by themselves, and Jarvis correctly argued that such a tenuous situation at the National Mall put the public at potential risk of a serious accident, injury, and/or vandalism. Arguing that Jarvis “no longer serves the public interest” is a pretty mean comment to make, especially by someone who helped facilitate the government shutdown in the first place.

I was unable to watch the hearings today, but I initially applauded Jarvis’ response to Issa when he was quoted as saying that “what I do is I open parks and operate parks, not planning for a closure.” When I first read the quote, I thought it effectively argued that the National Park Service is not in the business of closing parks and preventing access to America’s National treasures to their rightful owners, the American people. However, fellow blogger Al Mackey made a good point that is worth considering:

Based on what I understand about the National Park Service and their contingency planning for past government shutdowns (this is not the first time such an issue has arisen), I feel confident in asserting that the NPS was ready for the government shutdown. My friends in the Park Service were certainly ready for it. Was their room for improvement in communicating the NPS contingency plan to the Public? Perhaps, although the real issue is the handling of contingency details for open-air spaces like the National Mall, not places like Yellowstone or Yosemite (I think). Many people would have complained no matter how good the contingency plan was anyway.

Has Jon Jarvis failed in his capacity as NPS Chief? Should he now be forced to retire, as Issa has suggested? I say no, as I believe Jarvis has been a capable leader of the NPS, even if we acknowledge that there were shortcomings in planning for the shutdown. His work (along with Dwight Pitcaithley’s) in remodeling the interpretations of the Civil War made by Park Rangers at Battlefields and other National Parks is worthy of lavish praise on its own.

The floor is yours.

Cheers

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2 responses

  1. Hi Nick,

    One thing I heard in the hearing was that the NPS initially closed a lot of facilities, and then once those facilities were closed they did reviews on whether or not they could be reopened. It seems to me that proper planning would have meant they reviewed situations beforehand and decided which facilities could remain open and which had to close instead of closing them all and then doing the review. The “planning,” such as it was, seemed to merely consist of identifying who would be designated essential personnel. Beyond that, I’ve seen no evidence of planning. If indeed he defines his job as operating the parks and facilities, then perhaps he came short in that portion as well, since by reopening facilities he is admitting they probably shouldn’t have been closed to start with. Once again, though, I disagree with Rep. Issa about Director Jarvis. I think he’s been a terrific director overall and his tenure shouldn’t be defined by this lapse. This is a lesson learned, because we all know there will be more shutdowns in the future.

    1. Hi Al,

      Thanks for the comment and the interesting discussion on Twitter. If what you are saying is correct, then I would agree that more planning in terms of what stays open and what gets closed would have greatly benefitted everyone throughout the process. Sites like the National Mall (whose closing seems to have provoked the most outrage) may have been able to stay open during the shutdown if they would have made plans for it to stay open while being reviewed for closure rather than just shutting it down immediately (or something like that).

      Thanks again for the comment, Al.

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