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    Expert on Department of Interior Reorganization: 'It Could Be Very Expensive'

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    The US Department of the Interior has unveiled its plans to shift the department’s offices throughout the country into 12 unified regions. Radio Sputnik discussed the plan to overhaul the Department of the Interior with Phil Francis, chair of the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks.

    Sputnik: What’s your take on the plans of the Department of the Interior to reorganize? How will this affect you or your cause, the protection of America’s national parks in particular?

    Phil Francis: The plan has some lofty goals. They’re to to make our organizations more efficient, more effective; they’re going to be located in places where the American public has more access to our officials, and by managing parks on an ecosystem basis, they would be more effective. We haven’t seen the details of the plan; the only thing we’ve been able to see is a one-page [document], it’s a link on the Internet which shows how the regions will be drawn. What it doesn’t say is how this is going to actually take place, for example to reduce the amount of people working in the regional offices and move the money from the regional offices of these various bureaus to the field; this sounds like there’s going to be a reduction of a number of employees. Just consider this. I've worked for the National Park Service for about 40 years and the members of our coalition are mostly retirees; altogether we have something like 35 thousand odd years of experience. So, if I’m a regional director in the southeast region of the National Park Service, there’re a number of states being supervised by one person so we’re already crossing state lines in our management; and so one regional director could be in charge of 60-80 different parks. But now, instead, with the new regional framework, one regional director wouldn’t only be in charge of 60-80 national parks but also Fishing and Wildlife Service areas, Bureau of Land Management areas, and people in the US geological survey. All the bureaus will be supervised by one regional director. We wonder how someone who is leading these agencies within these new regions will have the expertise and enough staff to cover all the areas that the department and these bureaus are responsible for. We have these questions but we haven’t seen any answers; and we think it could be very expensive. I worked in the National Park Service back in the 1990s, when there was a reorganization of the National Park Service, and we reduced the number of regions from 10 to 7. That was expensive because we eliminated over a thousand jobs in the National Park Service. Out of the 20-something thousand people that we have, we lost about a thousand positions. When people lose their jobs due to the reorganization, we’re entitled to pay. If we move people from one place to another place, we pay for their move; we may help them sell their home, we pay for the cost of buying a new home, not the cost of the house but the process they go through. So, it seems to me that the cost of moving people around becomes a problem and we’re talking about thousands and thousands of employees that would be affected. That seems to me that it would be expensive, but I have not seen any information because the details of the plan haven't been provided to the public.

    Sputnik: Are there fears now that this new plan could lead to massive layoffs?

    Phil Francis: I don’t know if there’ll be massive layoffs. Again, there’s no information in the plan that’s been submitted how many people might be removed through retirement. Some people retire and it would be an additional cost there. But there’re many people that could lose their jobs because the goal is to reduce the number of people in these regional offices and then move the money to the field. We need more detail.

    Sputnik: The plan says something about managing the agency via watershed and ecosystem boundaries; what exactly does that mean? Can you explain how that’s going to affect those watershed and ecosystem boundaries?

    Phil Francis: In the desert southwest, for example, the ecosystem is very different from the south Appalachian Mountains where there’s much more variety of plant life, there’s much more rainfall; the environment is completely different from the desert. So I guess the idea is to put in the desert people who understand the desert; and put the people who better understand the coastal issues and might understand the geography and the diversity of plant life there.. But there’s one little flaw in the National Park Service; for example, we have many historic sites that have nothing to do with ecosystems; we manage a lot of President’s homes, we manage the Civil War parks and National Military parks of the Revolutionary War and I’m not sure that the ecosystem approach makes any difference with regard to managing those sites; and there’re many other historic sites that tell America's story.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker, and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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