President Donald Trump released his pick to lead the National Park Service (NPS) and manage the agency’s significant issues with deferred maintenance on infrastructure and its culture of sexual harassment.
Trump nominated Raymond David Vela, a 28-year veteran of the agency and current superintendent of Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
“David Vela has demonstrated all of the ideals that the National Park Service stands for, and his long track record of leadership on behalf of the people and places of the National Park Service distinguish him as the right man for the job,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement. “Our extraordinary national parks will be in the best of hands with David at the helm.”
If confirmed, Vela will face significant challenges leading an agency with a multi-billion backlog and issues with sexual harassment.
U.S. national parks are “in urgent need” of repairs to aging buildings, roads and other structures, NPS officials testified to Congress in March. The total cost of the repairs is about $12 billion, part of an overall backlog of $16 billion on federal lands managed by the Department of the Interior (DOI). (RELATED: National Parks Are In ‘Urgent Need’ Of Repairs, Officials Warn. It’ll Cost $12 Billion)
Some parks have had to limit access to certain areas and functions because the disrepair has led to hazardous conditions.
For example, “classrooms [in Cheyenne Eagle Butte School] have been closed due to the presence of dangerous mold, numerous roof leaks allow water to seep through three floors of classrooms, and repetitive heating system failures have caused two weeks of lost instruction during the current academic year,” National Park Service acting director Daniel Smith testified.
Congress is attempting to fix the NPS backlog through legislation that would take royalties and lease fees from oil and gas activity on federal land and put them toward fixing infrastructure managed by the agency.
Historically, the national park system has been a hotbed for sexual harassment between NPS employees. The problem became more focused after the DOI released a report in December showing more than a third of NPS employees had experienced sexual harassment or discrimination in the past year. (RELATED: Interior’s Zinke Fires Four Officials Over ‘Innapropriate Behavior’)
Zinke has promised to make ending the agency’s “culture of harassment and intimidation” — an issue that first began coming to light under former President Barack Obama — a top priority.
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