National Park Service Continues To Wallow In Best Places To Work Rankings

National Park Service employees are not happy with their jobs, according to a survey/NPS file

While the National Park Service stands atop all federal agencies in terms of favorability rankings, the agency’s employees rank it as one of the worst places to work in the federal government.

When the Pew Research Center in 2023 surveyed Americans on agencies they viewed favorably or unfavorably, the Park Service was viewed favorably by 81 percent, with the U.S. Postal Service ranking second with a favorability score of 77 percent. In the Best Places To Work In the Federal Government rankings released Monday, the Park Service’s employees ranked it in the bottom 25 percent of 459 agencies, while its parent, the Interior Department, ranked above average.

Overall, the Park Service ranked 385th out of the 459 agencies scored. Among the agency’s weak spots were effective leadership (392 out of 458 scored), effective leadership by senior leaders (402 out of 458), and effective leadership by supervisors (367 out of 458). The Park Service also scored poorly in diversity, equity, and inclusion (375 out of 449 agencies scored), employee input (330 out of 428), pay (435 out of 450), work-life balance (385 out of 428), recognition (397 out of 449), and professional development (323 out of 429).

The Park Service’s best ranking came in the mission match category, where it ranked 226 out of 428 agencies.

National Park Service officials in Washington did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the results.

The latest rankings continued a years-long downward slide for the agency. It’s best ranking came in the survey’s first year, 2003, when the Park Service finished 45 out of the 189 agencies surveyed. From 2005 through 2014 the agency finished in the middle of the pack, but since then it has languished in the bottom 25 percent of government employers.

Data collected during the survey show the Park Service to be an overwhelmingly white (75 pecent), male (61 pecent) agency, one that regularly trails its peer agencies in the annual survey. The best agency within the Interior Department to work, according to the Best Places survey, was the Inspector General’s Office, followed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Bureau of Trust Funds Management. 

The Best Places survey is not an outlier in its poor portrayal of the Park Service as a place to work. Last fall Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, citing internal Park Service documents and federal surveys, noted that workforce morale continues to fall, employee flight from the agency is growing, and the agency’s directorate has been failing to reverse those trends. Employee attrition has risen, reaching 28 percent in 2022, up from 17 percent in 2018, said PEER, and Park Service pay levels and housing conditions — a key factor in employee satisfaction levels — depend on congressional appropriations, something out of Park Service Director Chuck Sams’ control. 

The latest Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey pointed to concerns with leadership as well as unsustainable workloads.

“We know we still have room for improvement,” Sams wrote in an email to the field in December. “Some of our greatest areas for improvement are in addressing our workload, meaningful recognition, and pay. With just 47.2 percent of employees providing a positive response to ‘my workload is reasonable,’ we know that change is needed.”

In response to the survey, PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse said that “these latest survey results are far from a vote of confidence in Park Service leadership.” Pointing to instances when senior managers were judged guilty of serious misconduct by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General yet were promoted, Whitehouse added that, “[I]t is no wonder that most employees answering one survey question perceive their agency as a place where ‘favoritism’ is tolerated.’”   

Also a concern, though hard to quantify, are instances of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation that generate employee complaints.

Why morale in the Park Service is so low was explored through a 2017 project, the NPS Voices Tour, which was designed to give NPS leadership a better understanding of employee concerns. The “Tour” evolved from face-to-face and web sessions, along with more than 200 anonymous submissions. Overall, the authors of the report met with or had correspondence from 1,249 Park Service employees.

A key point made in the report was that “[P]erhaps the strongest message that emerged from the Voices Tour was that participants need to see a response to what they have shared. We heard voices from people wearing thin from being asked to perform at a high level in the face of inadequate resources, competing demands, and in some cases, work environments rendered extremely stressful due to interperson behavior.”

Authors of the report also stated that “[E]ven those who found the experience valuable expressed concern about whether any real action would come out of all the effort. Many expressed a sense of futility in participating as ‘NPS keeps bringing people down here to get our opinion and nothing happens.’ They say they have ‘been through enough surveys and trainings’ and now want to see tangible actions.”

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