Seasonal employees exempt from federal hiring freeze

Ranger-led programs like the daily history walks at Verkamp's Store often rely on seasonal and volunteer employees to operate.

Erin Ford/WGCN

Ranger-led programs like the daily history walks at Verkamp's Store often rely on seasonal and volunteer employees to operate.

GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — While concerns remain surrounding the federal hiring freeze and the impact it will have on government operations, seasonal rangers and staff at Grand Canyon National Park will continue to do what they have always done — prepare for a record number of visitor’s at one of North America’s most visited national parks.

Grand Canyon National Park spokesman Emily Davis said the hiring freeze does not affect safety and public health functions, such as fire programs and law enforcement, in both operations and support duties.

Davis said the freeze also will not affect lateral reassignments, Pathways hires, or seasonal employees.

National Parks, especially Grand Canyon, rely on seasonal staff to meet the needs of an ever-increasing number of visitors. These employees cover everything from janitorial services, retail positions and interpretive ranger programs throughout the park.

Exemptions to the freeze issued amid concerns of parks not being able to serve visitors includes seasonal and temporary employees “necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads.” The National Park Service (NPS) relies on more than 8,000 seasonal workers during the high season, according to NPS spokesman Tom Crosson.

Crosson said in a recent interview seasonal employees are critical to the parks during the high season.

“They help parks throughout the system provide quality and safe experiences for our visitors during peak visitation periods,” Crosson said. “The National Park Service will continue to work with the Department of the Interior, Office of Personnel Management and Office of Management and Budget Administration to ensure that we meet the needs of park visitors across the system throughout the year.”

That’s good news for the hundreds of seasonal employees hired annually at Grand Canyon, many of whom return year after year and consider the community a second home.

Nettie Klingler, a retired economist, has been working in the interpretive ranger programs for more than 15 years. She leads a daily history walk from Verkamp’s Store at the South Rim, illuminating historical figures and their variably successful attempts to corner business at the Grand Canyon.

However, the hiring freeze, which is in effect for 90 days while the Office of Personnel Management reviews federal hiring processes and develops a permanent workforce reduction program, means that the NPS, among other agencies, cannot hire any permanent employees to fill current vacancies.

Currently, NPS has about 1,700 vacancies for permanent employees, according to the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. While law enforcement and firefighters are exempt, the freeze is still in place for other professionals — wildlife biologists, archaeologists, and other science professions integral to the parks’ missions and operations.

John Gardner, a budget and appropriations specialist for the National Parks Conservation Association, listed a number of concerns with the understaffing of NPS.

“We are alarmed at the potential for an already understaffed Park Service to be further challenged to handle the great record number of visitors and care for resources that are increasingly falling into disrepair,” Gardner said. “If you look at some parks, the (visitation) increase from December ‘14 to December ‘16, you’re looking at shocking numbers for some parks. These parks are already struggling to accommodate these visitors and do their normal work. The reality is they need more staff, not less.”

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