The Business of Government Hour


About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Fran Mainella interview

Friday, February 18th, 2005 - 20:00
"We believe working with communities is absolutely critical...We've developed a community toolbox, which is focused on consensus building, and includes techniques for public participation and ways to get organized to turn visions into reality."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 02/19/2005
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; Leadership...

Missions and Programs; Leadership

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Washington, DC

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of the IBM center for the business of government. We created the center in 1998, to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more by visiting us on the web at

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service which is with the Department of Interior. Good morning, Fran.

Ms. Mainella: Good morning Paul, so glad to be here with you today.

Mr. Lawrence: Thanks for joining us. And also participating in our conversation is Tom Moewe from IBM.

Mr. Meowe: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Fran let's start by sort of understanding the Park Service. Could you tell us about the mission?

Ms. Mainella: Well, the mission of the National Park Service is so important and it was created to the Organic Act in 1916 and it talks about being able to make sure that our resources are protected and go unimpaired for future generations. Yet at the same time making sure they are available for the enjoyment of our visitors. And we really encourage that mission to make sure those resources are protected because there is no good recreation opportunities unless the resources are protected. So, we have been very excited about working to find that protection effort but at the same time they have environmentally friendly ways to enjoy our natural and cultural resources.

Mr. Meowe: How do you describe the size of the Park Services?

Ms. Mainella: It's a large system. We are 388 units strong and in fact we'll be continuing to grow, we have new additions. Of course our newest edition is a World War II memorial that came on just over memorial day, so we are excited about that and it's something that I think has meant so much to so many people. As you know there is over a 1000 people a day dying that are World War-II veterans. But also it covers -- our national park system, besides being 388 units represents 49 states. Now do you know which state isn't covered? Let's see who's ready?

It is Delaware. Delaware is the only state in the nation. And actually right now they are moving towards some considerations for that, but also we include the District of Columbia and many of our territories. We also have over 20,000 employees. And we are so excited about the volunteers that are involved with us. We have over a 125,000 volunteers that join with us each year. And we have another partner one of our business partners which is our concessionaires, we have 630 concessionaries that work with us from the small outfitters that help us canoeing or providing biking opportunities to our larger concessions that do the housing and help us with food service in many of our lodges.

Also the workforce of the National Park Service is currently made up of 56% are the private sector. It's been that way since Steven Mather our first director helped create the National Park System back in 1916, and that's because we work with volunteers our co-operating associations, our concessionaires, our contractors that help build a lot of our facilities as well as our students and many others that come forth with us. So as you look at the National Park Service it's only 44% federal employees today and basically that's the format it's been through most of existence.

Also the National Park Service includes 26,000 historic structures and in fact 62% of all the National Parks that have been created through -- or National Park units that have been created through Congress were created because of their cultural or historic value not just their natural value. So this is something that most people don't always realize. We have 29,000 miles of road and trails through our National Parks and almost 1200 camp grounds throughout the system. The visitation of our National Park System is over 270 million people a year. That's basically a million people a day during the summer and that exceeds the population of this country. And of course it extends to the citizens of our country as well as international visitors.

Mr. Meowe: You talked about the composition of the work force 50% of it being non government employees and 44% of it being -- I want to know what are the types of skills that the 44% have?

Ms. Mainella: One of the things that I want to say about our employees, they are the best asset we have in the National Park System. We have the most wonderful natural and cultural resources, but our employees are the ones that help make sure that we achieve that 96% satisfaction level. They are the ones who are able to welcome a visitor to the park, be it at the gate, at the booth that greets you or they maybe out leading you on one of the interpretive walks or they may be helping make sure that our facilities are in good shape.

But basically what we look for in our employees are people with skills that are dealing with natural and cultural resources like dealing prescribed fire to being able to interpret the environmental issues including how do we deal with exotic plants to how we can make sure the visitor understands what a great vegetation we have throughout our system. And they can help explain that. But also we are able to have people with skills that range again -- it's like being an entire city. Each park has people that are helping with maintenance, the people that are helping with interpretation, people that are helping with natural and cultural resources, people that are working us with the accounting, the personal relation -- and handing human resources as well as being able to make sure that the word about the park gets out to the community, so that communication efforts are out there. And of course we have a superintendent for each park and usually we have so many others that are helping make us go forth. But again our volunteers also join with us and we too look for those kinds of skills from, some folks are very good at electrical work to those that are able to identify all different vegetation in the park.

Mr. Meowe: Fran, can you help us understand your responsibilities and duties as the director?

Ms. Mainella: Well, I have the best job in the federal government. I came from the best job in Florida State Parks, I mean Florida, overseeing the Florida State Parks for 12 years and now over The National Parks and again it is the best position I think in the Federal government. Being responsible for these 388 units of our National Park service is such a great experience but also such an awesome responsibility because you want to make sure you do everything to take care of those resources but also to allow your visitors to have that enjoyable experience.

We worked though with issues from each park, of course we have from resource protection both cultural and natural, we have from making sure that our facilities are in good condition, we have for making sure that the visitor is safe particularly since September 11th, I think we've had a greater focus on safety because our parks are viewed as very safe. The public rates us at about a 92% comfort level being in our National Parks, but since September 11th we are much more observant and in some of our icons such as the Statue of Liberty, such as Washington Monument, such as Mount Rushmore we have had to increase our safety and security in those areas because they are listed as icons throughout the nation.

We also spend so much time on interpretation for the visitor to help them through the, coming to a visitor center and enjoying the exhibits that are there but also being able to get out right into the resource and go on that interpretive walk with a ranger or be able to enjoy one of the videos that help tell a story about the parks. We are also excited about all that we do in partnership with local governments as well as state governments operations. We are involved with, for example designating all the historic register spots are done through the National Park Service that's you know, on the historic register. We also give grants for the land and water conservation programs which helps local governments be able to develop parks in a way that deal with the outdoor recreation aspects from trails to even acquisitions of parks. We also are involved in the save America's treasures, again on the historic side they helps us to be able to preserve our resources and again work with partners all across our system which we call as the seamless network of parks.

Mr. Meowe: You mentioned your role in the state of Florida. What other previous experiences had you had prior to that role and how did they help prepare you for the role you have today?

Ms. Mainella: Well, I really appreciate, Tom, you asking that question because I did come from I said the best job in Florida. As Florida Park Director I served there for twelve years. But prior to that I was the executive director of the Florida Recreation and Park Association a non-profit. But it dealt with nothing but park and recreation, employees but also citizens and so I had an opportunity to be involved there, prior to that I was a Municipal Park and Recreation Director in Florida down in the Palm Beach County area called Lake Park and prior to that I was -- I worked in a predominantly all black community center in Tallahassee, Florida for about, almost 2 years and it was a great experience for me and I was able to help the community center move forward and they had tennis courts right there at the community center and we were able to develop a tennis team and move forth to become number 3 in the community, so that was kind of exciting for us.

And then prior to that I was a school teacher, taught physical education but also worked Park and Recreation Municipal in Connecticut for about 7 years and I began my career in park and recreation just by being a summer playground counselor which is for those who know is kind of like the lower position in the system, but I started that as I worked my way through college and I did that for about 5 years. But also part of what in my background, some of the things that I think helped allow the President to select me to be the National Park Service Director was because when I was Florida State Park Director I was able to help our State Park System become voted the best in the Nation. We won the gold medal for State Parks in this country. We did that because of our partnership efforts, our resource protection and our visitor services.

Also prior to that I was president of the National Recreation and Park Association a 23,000 member organization that represents parks, recreation professionals, providers including those who sell equipment for park and recreation and also citizens. Also I was president of the National Association of State Park Directors, I was the first woman to serve in that role and that was an exciting opportunity to represent all our 50 states and some of our territories as president of that organization as well. I've had a great opportunity to be in park and recreation and I just loved it and I loved being out with the people and with the resources.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting especially the point about getting a gold medal for the park.

Ms. Mainella: Yes.

Mr. Lawrence: How does the park services deal with endangered and invasive species, we'll ask Fran Mainella, Director of the National Park Service to explain this to us when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence and this mornings conversation is with Fran Mainella Director of the National Park Service which is with the Department of Interior and joining us in our conversation is Tom Meowe. Well, Fran, can you give us an overview on how the National Park Services was founded?

Ms. Mainella: I would love to, Paul, it's really a great story because the National Park Service as an entity was actually created in 1916, that was the Organic Act and the first director was Steven Mather, but actually prior to that there were many parks that were already being formed and in fact back in 1864 congress donated the Yosemite valley, which now has come on to be the Yosemite National Park to California for a state park. So it actually was protected as a state park for a while and eventually came on to us a little bit later. But of course most of us know about Yellowstone, it was our first national park created in 1872 which is prior to the 1916 creation of the National Park System, but it was held because at that point there was no way like California had a state park capability, the Wyoming and Montana territories did not and so congress had us hold on to Yellowstone even though it wasn't considered a National Park.

And it came on to be part of the park system officially of course in 1916, but 1872 is the credited creation of Yellowstone that we look at. Also congress is very important in creating other parks earlier on in the 1890s and early 1900s including Sequoia National Park out in California, it was actually our second national park Yosemite that we already spoke about, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake and Glacier National Park. And by 1916, when the system actually was created as a national park system there were already 14 national parks and 21 national monuments that really didn't have an organization around which to manage it. So it was President Woodrow Wilson who signed a law to create the National Park Service within the Department of Interior. So the Department of Interior was kind of holding on to those areas before that but it wasn't under the title of the National Park System. But now we are so pleased to have that as part of our system and I said we are up to 388 national parks.

Mr. Meowe: I think it's easy to think about Yellowstone when you think about the Park Service. Let me ask you a question, why is the parks in the northern range still a critical issue today?

Ms. Mainella: The northern range has been such an important area because of the diversity that it has, it represents the only place in the lower 48 where there is a full compliment of all the species of large mammals and large predators that carry out their roles in a complex eco-web or ecosystem. And that is really important for us and it's the great wildlife, the rich variety that has made Yellowstone such a significant part of all that we do. And so we're very excited about it ,of course we also have elk, we've had reestablishment of the wolf being brought back and that's been a successful effort of course we are working with our neighbors to make sure that it doesn't have a negative impact on those that are having other cattle and other aspects.

Just recently Lawrence Rockefeller passed away and of course he was very instrumental along with John D. Rockefeller who helped us with creating the memorial parkway and Grand Teton mountains. Lawrence Rockefeller was very instrumental so all that played together. You're probably aware too we do have some controversy at Yellowstone dealing with the snowmobile issues and most recently we have been trying to work forward with a way that would give us environmentally friendly access to Yellowstone on snowmobiles, because as you're probably aware once the snow comes in there isn't a way to drive in on a normal basis into to see Old Faithful, and that is quite an experience to be able to accomplish to get into that area,.

And President Clinton had passed a law right before he left office which was going to say that there would be no more snowmobiling in Yellowstone and in fact including Grand Tetons, and it would only be snow coaches. And that ruling was just recently struck down by a Federal court saying that ruling will not prevail and have directed us to come up with a ruling that we can implement for the winter season of '04-'05 to implement environmentally friendly access we are going to keep no machines on the roads that you and I drive on in the summer. We are going to make it best available technology which means that at this point it's usually four cycle engines that are meeting certain standards, they have to be certified that they meet air quality rules and noise.

We also are going to have everything guided, meaning that the guides will be taking people in and out. They will make sure that any involvement with speed or with our bison are properly handled because the guides will have to be certified themselves and they will loose their certification if they do not follow the rules. And then also we will be doing adaptive management, meaning that if the machines do not achieve the 90% improved air quality that we are looking for then we will reduce the numbers further. This new rule will have a lower numbers than we've ever allowed the past into Yellowstone. So we're again excited about working on this challenge of the new rule and we do hope to have it in place for this winter season.

Mr. Meowe: Over the last several years the National Park Service has seen an increase in funding? What are the factors that have led to this upward trend?

Ms. Mainella: We have the biggest budget now and the most full time employees than we've ever had in the history of The National Park Service. We have really increased what we have done on our maintenance backlog. The President committed to something that isn't very glamorous in parks but it is absolutely critical, which is making sure your sewage treatments and others is in good place and that your bathrooms don't have leaking ceilings and that your plumbing is in good place, your electrical, your air conditioning, your trails and then of course some other areas that we have worked on. We've already going to have spent about 3.9 billion dollars towards that effort and we hope over a 6 year period it would be about be about 4.9 billion that we will have worked on.

We've also been increasing in fact our budget right now is 20% higher than it was when President took office in '01, and so we are excited about that. But we have had a few additional challenges. Our challenges have been increased law enforcement that we are spending money on that we were not spending on as aggressively before and so that has been a challenge for us. We also though have had more money go towards fire protection and removal of exotic or invasive species as well as the vegetation in the forest have gotten too thick, where we need to go and use prescribe fire or other techniques to thin that out. We've also spent more money than we have ever done on natural resources, which has been a good, I mean all these are good things but they are costing us more money. We've done the natural resource challenge, which the President has supported.

So we average now about almost a 100 million a year that we've been spending on natural resources which is inventorying those resources and other things of that nature. And again we've talked about the maintenance that has been big areas. So we have been proud of what we've been able to accomplish but also in the '05 budget the President has come forth with increase of the operational dollars, the every day operational dollars the ones that keep the visitor centers open and the ones so people can clean the rest rooms. We are seeing an increase on that and both House and Senate at this time having their budgets that they go into conference with increases for that effort as well. So we are very excited about what we have been able to do in the funding but we do need to continue that operational increases as well as maintaining our other areas. The President has really helped us and we again have accomplished almost 4000 improvement projects over the last 3½ years in our parks.

Mr. Meowe: You have mentioned invasive species and I know that's one of the priorities in terms of land management threat of the park service. Could you tell listeners what invasive species and give us some examples of what you are doing to control them?

Ms. Mainella: Right. Invasive species in particular, I'm going to talk initially vegetation, which is, you know, plants growing, there is invasive species, that get into -- they could be like hogs and other things that come into land that don't belong there. They're not native to that area. For the most part invasive species are usually nonnative, meaning not from that particular area, they don't belong in that place, like the Melaleuca tree in Florida. That was my old stomping grounds. Melaleuca was brought in from outside the Florida area and in doing so it grows so quickly, it doesn't allow anything else to grow around it. So your native plants that normally will hold the ground in place, they hold the soil in place and then also let the native vegetation come forth is eliminated because of the invasive species.

I'm going to give you an example it was Australian Pines, another invasive in Florida, that when hurricane Andrew hit in 1992, it turned out to be for one of my parks down there called Cape Florida, in Key Biscayne. That was the best exotic removal we've ever had of invasive species, because there was 400 acres of these trees that came down that we were not able to eliminate prior to, and because they did not, couldn't hold the soil, they just went over and did damage to people's homes, to the park. Now we have a park that's been restored, thanks to Congress and everyone and the governor of Florida. We were able to restore that park and get it so it has nothing, but you know, it's all native vegetation, which means if the hurricane comes again, the land will stay in place, it will be a much better shape.

We've also recently been working on that in Canyon Dechay, which is in Arizona. And that's removing Tamarisk which is a big removal and the, for the Navajo tribe that resides there, the Tamarisk has soaked up all the water that belongs to be normally flowing and by removing that invasive species, it'll allow the water to flow again in the basin, so that Navajo's can do their cattle and farming.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially the part about absorbing the water. One of the areas called on the Presidents management agenda is competitive sourcing which some would characterize as the most controversial. What is competitive sourcing and how does it work, we'll ask Fran Mainella of the Park Service to explain this to us and describe the experience the Park Service has had with competitive sourcing, when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation with Fran Maniella, the director of the National Park Service which is with the department of Interior. Joining us in our conversation is Thomas Moewe.

Mr. Moewe: Fran, in the previous segment we discussed the National Park Service critical land management issues. In this segment let's talk about some of the administrative management challenges that the NPS faces. Can you describe the Human Resource challenges that you face as the director?

Ms. Mainella: Well we -- again we have such wonderful employees in our National Park Service and we want to continue to make sure that we have them trained, have the right skills and are able to bring forth the folks that are definitely loving the resources and want to take care of it as well as making sure that the visitor has a positive experience. I think I mentioned maybe earlier that right now our work force is made up of 56 percent private sector and 44 percent federal employees. But again our 44 percent of federal employees are just wonderful and we are stressing the skills from communications to understanding the resources, to be able to help people further comprehend what a great resource our parks are to their everyday life and as we call all the parks, the soul of America and that soul only happens through our employees and their ability to communicate.

Mr. Lawrence: The Park Service has actively participated in competitive sourcing, which is one of the components of the President's management agenda. For our listeners could you describe competitive sourcing and how it can benefit a organization?

Ms. Mainella: Well, what we've been able to do is actually look at the competitive sourcing through what's called a competitive review, which is where we actually are looking at a park, and having what we call a preplanning effort because the goal of competitive sourcing is not to be eliminating federal employees or anything of that nature. It's to make us most efficient and effective, to be the best we can be and part of what the competitive sourcing laws allow as under the revised A-76, that's a circular that guides us on this. It allows us to go through planning and look at our employees in different settings and we've been doing that fairly regularly.

We've done it most recently at the Golden Gate National Park, it's in San Francisco, where we looked at the employees in certain areas, in particularly maintenance areas and a few others to see, are we organized the best way we can be? Are we doing all that we could? And we were able to find some improvements that we could do and we do compare this to the private sector, but we are not having to put it out to bid because of the fact that the management review or a competitive review concept, allows us to look at it make adjustments and then if that's successful, even though we've looked at it compared to the private sectors, as long as we are more effective and efficient than what the private sector would look at, we have a consultant, a business consultant that helps us do that.

We're able to make revisions to our organizations and move forward. We've had no loss of jobs as a result, we've had two regular competitive sourcing competitions where it actually went to bid, not just and that is an example of one most recently in Mississippi, but we've won everything that has come forth. So because of that success and because we're 56% private sector already, we have been able to use the planning effort as a way for us to not have our employees feel threatened but yet having them do a management review so that they know they're the best they can be and it may need some changes in positions. But it means that we've been able to go forth in a way with no loss of jobs.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there challenges incurred as a result of participating in competitive sourcing, for example, maintaining diversity in the workforce or allocating resources to perform the sourcing analysis?

Ms. Mainella: Again because we've not lost any jobs I wouldn't really directly be able to speak to that other than to tell you that the diversity efforts are something that we are spending so much time on the National Parks. To make sure that when our recruiting side, as we bring people on that we're looking at a great diversity of employees and finding ways to put a game plan together that allow us to reach out to a greater diverse opportunity. We want to stay relevant, we want to look at ourselves, compared to the population and make sure that we are important and reflective of that. And we've been very successful in that area as well as, as we do our competitive review we make sure that part of what we're reviewing is that we are being diverse and that we are continuing to make sure we reflect the society that we serve.

Mr. Lawrence: The National Park Service is an active partner in scientific research and recreation programs with private organizations. Can you give us some examples of these programs?

Ms. Mainella: Well, we've been working very closely in scientific research. Again some of our partners have been other federal agencies like some of -- what we mentioned about the Tamarisk and the exotic plants. We work in conjunction not only with our folks, but we're working in conjunction with the native Americans, we're working in conjunction with other organizations, particularly through our Natural Resource Challenge. Our Natural Resource Challenge that I mentioned earlier helps us to look at our natural resources, monitor them, but we've also been working with our different colleges across our nation in having them help us do a lot of our scientific research. And we have partnerships that reflect it so that for every dollar we spend, we get $4 back in research and that has been an exciting way.

Another example has been some of what we've done with our Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program which helps us not only create new trails and river development, but it means we also find ways of working with the communities. We believe working with the Gateway communities are absolutely critical. And in fact we've developed a community toolbox, which is focused on consensus building and are techniques for public participation with communities and to help them get organized and how we can turn different visions into reality.

I've also done a directors order on civic engagement in public involvement, which says that each of our parks as we are doing research or whether we're doing management like changing fees in parks or other things of this nature, we must reach out to the community and must reach out to any of the partners, environmental leaders, recreation users nationally, to make sure we include them as we decide on how we move forward. We're still the final decision maker, but we want to have the input on the front side, not after we make a decision and then try to realize we didn't talk to communities. So that is a mandate that we've done.

Mr. Lawrence: How does that mandate actually benefit the National Park Service?

Ms. Mainella: Well, I think it's brought us together with so many new partners, again I believe in a seamless network parks; which means not just State parks and local parks but it's also private parks, it's the citizens who enjoy. We're trying to make sure that as we move forward that we have been able to be more proactive. In actuality it will mean the resource is better protected, it means the visitors to the parks will have their needs reflected and in the long run, it's less time involved, it's more efficient and effective because you reach out on the front side, not afterward you've made a decision and then you're trying to say, "oops! I didn't talk to very -- all the different groups and now I have to make modifications because I didn't take into consideration some of their needs."

Mr. Lawrence: Talk about the challenges of balancing, and I'm curious about balancing sort of the immediate land management needs, say repairs after natural disasters, what are some of the long-term operational management objectives?

Ms. Mainella: Well, as you know, we've just had major impacts from the hurricanes that have just taken place. This has been a historic year with hurricanes, particularly down in the Florida area, but actually in National Parks we had 8 different states impacted. Florida being the most impacted, with Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola with approximately about a $30 million financial impact. And second was Blue Ridge in North Carolina, the Blue Ridge Parkway because it covers many states but it was the North Carolina section, where we actually had impact to a visitor center and roads and that's almost a $14 million impact.

And what we do here, thanks to Congress and the President, we have gone forth with a bill that has allowed us to receive some funding, in affect hopefully I will be going out shortly to visit a lot of the areas to let them know that they have that money coming to them to help them in being restored. A part of it is also partnership, because for example, I went to Gulf Islands, I saw the whole community. The tourism sections of the community, the chamber of commerce, the business people, the environmental leaders because we have so many significant cultural resources there, Fort Pickings and so many artifacts, everybody pulled together to get the park back open, because it's a symbol of the health of the community when that park reopens. And so the encouragement from the community was to get our visitor center open as quick as we can even though the rest of the park would probably take about 6 months to get all of it fully reopened. But we are working with the community and I think it's absolutely critical to be balancing those efforts together.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially the part about the park being the health of the community. What does the future hold for The National Park Service, we'll ask it's director Fran Mainella for her thoughts when The Business of Government Hour returns.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversations with Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service, which is with the Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Thomas Moewe.

Mr. Moewe: Fran can you describe the work the National Park Service is doing with other government agencies, for example in the areas of health, fitness and tourism?

Ms. Mainella: Yes, Tom. Thank you so much for asking that because I'm excited about what we're doing in health and fitness and tourism. In particular, we most recently had from, started during our National Park Week in April of this year, through it's just coming to it's conclusion at the end of October. We've partnered with the Travel Industry Association and it was for, See America's National Parks. They had worked with the Department Of Transportation earlier for See America's Scenic by-ways but came to us next to work together to promote parks that were lesser known. We called some of our hidden jams.

For example, when people come to Washington, often times they forget to go to Frederick Douglas's home. They go to the Washington Monument or the World War II Memorial, but the Frederick Douglas's home is such a wonderful asset to us, and that's what this helped to do. It promoted what opportunities might be in a community if you landed in a certain airport or drive into a certain community, and it also gave us creative diversity.

Again part of our effort is to increase our diversity both as visitors and employees in our National Park Service, and the Travel Industry Association stepped up to help to make people know more about the black history opportunities, native American history, we opened Manzanar, during this period of time which is, it talks about Japanese Americans in our, in what's important in our history. Also the health and fitness aspect, the parks play such and important part in the health and well being of individuals. It's part of the quality of life that is provided through parks, be it people coming out to do the active physical hiking, biking, swimming, you know, climbing or any of those areas but also coming out for the health.

And I remember after September 11th, for myself, I watched -- I remember standing up in the secretaries offices and watching the Pentagon begin to burn and later though I needed to have a break and out I went, probably a week or two later to -- instead of watching the Pentagon burn, standing on top of a very high location called the Billy Goat trail in the C&O Canal National Park. And in doing that I was able to have my stress relief. I was away from the television, I had a chance to look over the great foliage and the quietness of the water in the canal and what a great experience that was. These are part of the benefits.

We've tied to gather, the President had Healthier US initiative and also as you know obesity is coming on to be one of the top impacts to people's health and we have gone with get fit US and work in partnership with other agencies to do that and particularly the center for disease control, also the sergeant general has joined with us, also the National Recreation Park Association, and many park and recreation entities across our nation. So we're going to continue that effort and we're excited about that for the future.

Mr. Lawrence: Sounds like great initiatives. What are other current and future initiatives under way at the National Park Service?

Ms. Mainella: One of the big areas I think is so important, since 1916 when the National Park System was formed, volunteers have always been an important part. But really we further enhanced that with the "Take Pride in America," which is not just National Parks, but it's all public lands both Federal, State and local working together, to help encourage the spirit of volunteerism, because if we think it's absolutely critical for people to volunteer, because they -- it's such a benefit for them as well as a benefit for the resource.

Also we've been working very aggressively in trying to further enhance our operational benefits. As I said, the '05 budget is going to have additional money for us and that's going to be an area where we're going to plan and spend a lot of time on further enhancing that. Also of course we've had so many successes with our maintenance backlog but we're going to continue to further keep that so that we are not only focused on maintenance, but making sure our operations are absolutely critical.

We've been really successful through our own communications inside our National Park Service, to our own employees. We created the, what's called "Inside NPS," which communicates employee to employee, with 20,000 employees, you've got to keep them well informed, and now we've created an NPS digest, which is another website, which allows us to be able to connect to the people outside of the Park Service that are employees and be able to partner with people through this NPS digest. And I guess lastly I'm real pleased with our junior ranger program that we've been working on. That's been, something that's been underway for a while, but now we've gone to the Web Ranger concept. And the National Park foundation is helping us move forward with additional funding for Web Rangers, meaning that you can go on site, that's through the internet and learn about national parks and actually accomplish a lot of the knowledge that you're going to need by doing it on the web and hopefully it'll encourage you to actually go out on the site. So this is one of our newest efforts that we further -- want to further enhance for the future.

Mr. Meowe: Reflecting upon your experience as the National Park Service director thus far what lessons learned and advice can you share with other Federal agency directors?

Mr. Mainella: Well I think again, as I said I have the best job in the Federal government, so I always tease everyone that, you know, you can come out and visit parks. But I think that probably some of the best lessons I've learned and again it's what I knew when I was in Florida State parks, but it's that our best assets are our employees and our partners that work with us, our volunteers and others and that I need to make sure I continue to spend a lot of time. When I go out into parks, when I visit a park, not only do I see the resource, but I always make sure I have an employee meeting and meet with the employees. I also try to meet with the partners and make sure they know how much they're appreciated in all that they do.

I think I've learned, one of my biggest surprises. I know more about security than I ever hoped to know, but I know how many people can go through a magnetometer in an hour, it's about 350. But you know, those are things that have been some of the additional things that I've learned. But I think also is that, it further enhances with a large operation as the national park services, we've got to continue to communicate effectively. I mentioned the inside NPS, both internally and externally.

Also that we want to make sure we constantly look at ourselves. Are we doing everything as effectively and efficiently as we can, and that it is something that we've got to continue to not just assume that the way we've done it always is always the best. Yet, doing it in a way that doesn't have our employees feel threatened in any way or our visitors feel like they're losing any kind of experience. We've got to make sure though that we're the best we can be and I think that has been the important part of what I've learned.

Mr. Lawrence: Fran let me ask you to shift gears now and put on your future looking hat. Where do you see the park service in the next 5 to10 years?

Ms. Mainella: I think partnerships are going to be the key for the future. No one can do things alone anymore. One of our successes was we had a partnership conference called Joint Ventures, that drew almost 1600 attendees, of them which only 500 or so were Federal employees. It was our partners coming together. The realization is that we have to find ways to work together.

We've got to, you've heard me talk also about the seamless network of parks. That is a concept that National Parks still is managed the way they manage and state parks as theirs, but the public as a whole really doesn't always care who's serving them. They really want to be, they want the resources to be available to them, they want to have an enjoyable time in a way that protects the environment, and we've got to make sure our territorialism is reduced. And I'll be continuing to work on that seamless network and that the partnership efforts that we've got to think of not just automatically thinking that we do it the same way we've always done it. There's so much benefit to the tradition, but there's always with tradition you enhance that further by taking a look at yourself on a regular basis.

Mr. Lawrence: Your career has been devoted to public service at one level of government or associations or another and I'm curious, and ask you reflect on that. What advice would you give to a person interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Mainella: Well, it's interesting. I just spoke at a conference that dealt with the National Recreation Park Association and so there were park and recreation potential people to come into public service. And I guess what I -- what I advised them first of all is they need to be able to want to enjoy, serving not only the resource, not only that visitor, but we are serving a nation through our efforts or even though we're, maybe in a local government setting, it's still never know who's coming there. But it's also important that you have the courage to look at yourself and look at others and hopefully treat each other with respect and honesty, but also to be able to say that you have -- you'll take the time and energy to do the homework necessary. The accountability is so much greater today than it has ever been before, that you build your communication skills both internally and externally, that you will also build, you have a further emphasis on business. Right now today, being in a park, you've got to have that business orientation and I think that's part of what we're bringing to the -- we do business plans for example in our national parks and we need to do that further.

We need to be able to work in a holistic approach and what we're primarily looking for today is more leaders than just managers. We want people again to have communication skills, but also again are willing to step up, go that extra mile. For example putting that time in to volunteer themselves in different settings. So that we can see that leadership skill, be it at -- be it in a park, be it in your church area or rotary or some other groups, we want to see those people stepping forth, because I still think that that is what we're all about.

Mr. Lawrence: Fran I'm afraid we're out of time. Tom and I want to thank you for joining us this morning and squeezing us into what appears to be a very busy schedule.

Ms. Mainella: Thank you so much and it's been a great time being here and I want to encourage everyone to please think about learning more about your national parks by going on our website at You can find out information on planning your next visits to parks or how you could volunteer or how you might be able to link to other parts of the Department of Interior, to be able to connect with those particular areas. I really encourage everyone to come out and enjoy your national parks. Again it is the soul of America and we want you to be able to enjoy them. Thank you so much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you Fran. This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring conversation with Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service. Be sure and visit us on the web at, there you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of this fascinating conversation. Once again that's,. This is Paul Lawrence, thank you for listening.

Fran Mainella interview
"We believe working with communities is absolutely critical...We've developed a community toolbox, which is focused on consensus building, and includes techniques for public participation and ways to get organized to turn visions into reality."

You may also

Broadcast Schedule

Federal News Radio 1500-AM
  • Mondays at 11 a.m. Fridays at 1 p.m. (Wednesdays at 12 p.m. as
  • available.)

Our radio interviews can be played on your computer or downloaded.


Subscribe to our program

via iTunes.


Transcripts are also available.


Your host

Michael Keegan
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Leadership Fellow & Host, The Business of Government Hour

Browse Episodes


Recent Episodes

Bob Rosen
Author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World
Jin-Oh Hahn and  Monifa Vaughn-Cooke
University of Maryland
Assistant Professors, Department of Mechanical Engineering
Vice Admiral Raquel Bono
United States Navy
Director, Defense Health Agency

Upcoming Episodes

Michael McKeown
Executive Director, Homeland Security Advisory Council
Department of Homeland Security