WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 15, 2016 – The National Park Service has exonerated all of its current employees from blame for the largest official mass desecration of Indian pre-historic burial sites in history, according to an agency report posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Friends of Effigy Mounds. Despite years in preparation, the slim NPS report offers no concrete steps to prevent repetition of the decade-long debacle at Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument; nor does it address what should be done to remediate the 78 illegal projects scarring some 200 sacred sites.
The long overdue “After Action Review” was completed by a team of NPS staff in April 2016 but was not approved until July 27th by Deputy Director Peggy O’Dell who resigned the next week. The report states its purpose is to “foster healing” with this observation:
“Looking back, everyone is astonished that the incidents at Effigy Mounds National Monument could have happened over the course of so many years….Pertinent to this report is how they were able to get away with it for so long.”
Although admitting that NPS has known since 2009 about the scores of illegal projects costing millions spanning a period of 11 years, the report lays the entire blame on “former employees.” It does not mention that NPS Director Jon Jarvis was briefed about the entire affair in 2010 yet took no action. NPS Midwest Deputy Regional Director Patty Trap, who commissioned the current report, is excused for not acting because she “had 60 [park] superintendents as direct reports, which …is an impossible responsibility.”
“This new report epitomizes what is wrong with the current Park Service leadership, which never takes direct responsibility for screw-ups no matter how flagrant or preventable,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the original investigation was buried by NPS until PEER threatened litigation to force its release. “Tellingly, this report preaches transparency and accountability but illustrates precisely the opposite, gauzing over critical facts and offering not a single meaningful reform.”
Nor does the report even attempt to answer the two key questions it posed:
“Are similar incidents happening in another park unit? How do we make sure these incidents never happen again?”
In a “Serious Mismanagement Report” completed in April 2014, a team of NPS officials made pointed findings about “gross physical and ethical violations” but the agency disavowed that report, as Ms. Trap even denied that it existed. It was retracted in favor of this belated, vague report which offers little by way of specific “lessons learned” other than don’t do it again.
Instead, the new report urges more training, better communication, and employee empowerment, including the aspiration that “Employees should feel confident and free to speak openly without retaliation when they see” cultural resource violations. Significantly, it does not address the need for any –
- Reforms. While acknowledging “breaks in the system of checks and balances,” it does not prescribe any fixes. Notably, the Midwest Regional office eliminated all reviews of park construction projects before the illegal building began at Effigy Mounds. Yet, the report does not recommend reinstituting these reviews or any other critical checks;
- Remedies. The report ascribes problems to the lack of training and understanding by the former Effigy Mounds superintendent, even noting that she was promoted into the job despite an evaluation that she had “no critical thinking skills.” Yet, the report does not address weaknesses in the NPS process for selection of superintendents; and
- Repairs. The fate of the 78 illegal structures impinging on the pre-historic burial mounds is never mentioned.
“All the illegally constructed boardwalks, decks, and bridges should be removed and the national monument returned to its original condition prior to this crime spree,” said Tim Mason of Friends of Effigy Mounds, who worked at the park for 19 seasons. “We had a saying: ‘Is your heart in the park?’ but this report is not about your heart but covering another piece of the anatomy.”