Whether you are a new employee or interested in employment with the National Park Service, understanding how the organization functions is vital to your success. Are all parks the same? How is the work divided? How are the sites managed? What do the different divisions do?
Known as “Essentials,” these topics provide insight into how the National Park Service manages the entire system of parks and programs to accomplish its mission. Reading through each topic gives an overview at the most basic level with opportunities to link to more in-depth, specific information.
The National Park Service (NPS) has a long successful history of working with other Departments, agencies and bureaus, from the time the national parks were first established to today.
Our relationship with other government agencies as partners helps us get our work done and meet our mission at all levels of the Park Service. Missions and authorities can be leveraged to help each other work on joint projects, enabling agencies to do more together than they could by themselves.
Working Within Department of the Interior
The Department of the Interior (DOI) is often called “America’s Department”. The NPS is one of the bureaus within DOI.
DOI is part of the President’s Cabinet and the President, Congress and the Secretary of Interior set work priorities such providing for public use and recreation, protecting natural and cultural resources, managing land, water and mineral resources and working with Native American Nations. Bureau Directors set the work priorities for each bureau, such as the Call to Action and Healthy Park plans.
There are currently nine bureaus and a variety of offices in the Department of the Interior, including the National Park Service, each with different legal mandates, policies, missions and purpose. Those missions reflect in some part the Department’s mission:
The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.
Besides our Secretary, mission statement, and program direction, the NPS has programs in common with other DOI bureaus such as DOI Learn and the FBMS (Financial and Business Management System).
The NPS partners with other DOI bureaus as needed and at all levels (Washington Support Office, Regional Offices, and Parks). In particular, we share many of the same concerns and management issues with the other two land management bureaus in DOI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
For example, the Bureau of Reclamation initially asked the NPS to manage recreation at Lake Mead through a memorandum of agreement until the area was designated a national recreation area. The NPS shares management of wilderness areas around the lake with the BLM, where law enforcement officers have cross-authorization to share resources and regulations across bureau boundaries. At Lake Mead, the USFWS works with the NPS on the application of the Endangered Species Act for the protection of the endangered razorback sucker.
Working With Agencies Outside of Department of the Interior
The other major land management bureau that works closely with the NPS is the US Forest Service (USFS). Located within the Department of Agriculture, the USFS manages national forests, grasslands, wilderness areas and monuments that share boundaries with many national parks.
On the state and territorial level, the DOI recognizes the importance of working with other agencies, too. The Office of External and Intergovernmental Affairs coordinate working with local and state governments across the United States. The Office of Insular Affairs has administrative responsibility for coordinating federal policy in the territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the responsibility to administer and oversee U.S. Federal assistance provided to the Freely Associated States of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau under the Compacts of Free Association.
NPS employees work with these diverse Departments for a variety of reasons:
- Compliance with federal regulations:
- Example: The NPS works closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor and ensure the appropriate air quality of park and regional air sheds
- Problem solving:
- Example: The NPS works with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to manage commercial air tours over NPS lands to help protect the natural sounds of parks.
- Oversight of Government Practices:
- Example: The Office of Personal Management (OPM) oversees personnel policies and practices conducted by the National Park Service, and the General Services Administration (GSA) oversees many of the business procedures affiliated with NPS administrative functions.
- Shared boundaries and projects:
- Example: At the Missouri Recreational River, a multitude of agencies are involved in managing the park such as the Army Corps of Engineers, which has the responsibility of flood-damage reduction.
- Special initiatives:
- Example: The NPS has a number of Public Health Service officers within its ranks. Officers were at the forefront in dealing with a significant Hantavirus outbreak in Yosemite National Park.
- Cost savings and efficiency:
- Example: The National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) was created in 1965 when the USFS, BLM, and National Weather Service (NWS) identified “the need to work together to reduce the duplication of services, cut costs, and coordinate national fire planning and operations.” In the 1970s, the NPS and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) joined followed by the USFWS. Since joining the NIFC mission, the NPS has benefitted greatly from the cooperative effort that has emerged.
- Scientific integrity:
- Example: The NPS Ocean and Coastal Resources program has joined forces with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for science-based management of ocean and Great Lake parks, shorelines and submerged habitats.
Issues and Challenges
Finding common ground can be a challenge: having different policies, core values, regulations, missions, culture and ways of doing business can make it harder to work together. It may require a lot of work to smooth the way. Constant efforts to improve our communication helps us recognize our different missions, understand where we overlap, and resolve problems.
Attitudes and misconceptions can get in our way and keep us from working together. It’s essential to respect our differences and acknowledge other agencies have many tools and talents to bring to the table to help us succeed in our own mission.
Every department and bureau has an important role and contribution to the bigger whole of government work.