Senate Committee Holds Hearing on NPS Director Nominee

Today, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider Raymond “David” Vela for the Director of the National Park Service (NPS). If confirmed, he will oversee the 20,000 National Park Service employees who work at 417 national parks around the country. Vela, who is currently the Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, has previously ignored procedures intended to raise public awareness of NPS policies, attempted to prevent the extension of public comment periods, and allowed government officials to vacation on government property at little or no cost.

“David Vela’s history of keeping the public in the dark, limiting public comment periods, and letting VIPs exploit government resources is concerning to say the least,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “At a time when the Interior Department is in chaos under Ryan Zinke’s failed leadership, we hope that the committee would get Vela’s commitment to run a transparent, inclusive agency that won’t waste taxpayer resources on VIPs, should he be confirmed.”

In his previous positions at NPS, Vela has withheld emails requested as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. He has also refused to agree to a bipartisan congressional appeal to extend a public comment period for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Off-Road Vehicle Management Plan, and under his leadership as Superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, government officials were allowed to use the Brinkerhoff Lodge in Grand Teton National Park as a low or no-cost vacation spot.

Earlier this year, a Washington Post story, based in part on Western Values Project records requests, found that Ryan Zinke and his wife Lola made NPS staff arrange special tours for their friends, one instance of a larger pattern of Zinke abusing his office for personal gain.

NPS is currently being run by Acting Director Paul Daniel Smith, a controversial figure who, when he worked for George W. Bush’s Interior Department, intervened to help Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder bypass environmental laws so he could cut down over 130 trees to get a better view of the Potomac river. Mr. Smith was investigated by the Interior Inspector General earlier this year after he allegedly made “a gesture involving his genitalia” to another Interior employee.

Among other questions for Vela, Senators are expected to ask about his position on a recent controversial proposal that would require protestors to repay NPS for security costs when they demonstrate in Washington, DC. Other possible questions include: addressing low employee morale and the sexual assault and harassment epidemic at NPS, Zinke’s proposals to privatize park functions and campgrounds, efforts to suppress science under the current administration, and the recent heavy-handed staff reorganizations that forced the popular Yellowstone National Park Superintendent into early retirement during peak summer visitation.

If Vela is voted out of committee, his nomination will advance to the full Senate for a vote.

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