Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Park Service Renewal Clinton Appointments Should Close a Leadership Gap in National Parks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Park Service Renewal Clinton Appointments Should Close a Leadership Gap in National Parks

Article excerpt

NATIONAL Park Service aficionados are wondering how much of a difference the appointment of Roger Kennedy as Park Service director will make in dealing with the system's troubles.

For two decades the National Park Service (NPS) has drifted from its moorings. Political interference, dwindling congressional support, and lack of effective leadership have contributed to plummeting morale within its ranks. Now, however, with a new director and with strong support from his superiors - led by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt - there is a surge of hope that the Park Service is about to regain its place as one of the most respected public-service agencies in the government.

Although park visitation has increased rapidly and many additional areas added, the number of park rangers has not increased for a decade, salaries are among the lowest in government, duties have greatly expanded, and threats to natural habitats have increased. A year-long internal study in 1991, during the 75th anniversary of the founding of the service, pointed out the system's many deficiencies. A symposium of NPS and citizen leaders recommended more than 90 far-reaching changes to better preserve and protect the parks and interpret them to the public.

The appointment of Mr. Kennedy, who recently retired as director of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, has disappointed some people who preferred either a candidate from within the Park Service or from outside but with natural-resources expertise. Others, however, believe that because a majority of the 367 park-system units are primarily of historic or cultural significance, it is proper that the Park Service be led for the first time by a historian. In a recent conversation, Kennedy told me of his conviction that both natural and cultural areas must be given renewed stewardship as well as more-effective management and interpretation of their values to the public.

The election of Bill Clinton and Al Gore Jr. and Mr. Babbitt's appointment as interior secretary left many observers optimistic over a quick rise in Park Service fortunes. But expectations sagged when the White House turned down Babbitt's original list of candidates, ostensibly because the administration wanted either a "big name" or a minority.

TV-news anchorman Tom Brokaw noted in an interview that he had been offered the job and had declined. The White House personnel office requested a resume from a black state parks and recreation director but never got back in touch with him. When Babbitt submitted his new top candidate, Kennedy, a proven Washington manager, author, and broadcaster, the White House personnel office replied that Kennedy "was not a proper fit" (bureaucratese for "we're looking for someone with higher ratings on the political scale"). The word leaked out that the front-runners for the job were two Democrats who lost their reelection bids in 1992: Rep. Les AuCoin (D) of Oregon and Rep. Peter Kostmayer (D) of Pennsylvania. …

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