Washington, DC February 25, 2019 – The National Park Service (NPS) is quietly moving to reduce the training required of its permanent law enforcement rangers, according to a report written by retired agency specialists and posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group is asking the Congressional oversight committees to weigh in before this stealth downgrade is completed.
The PEER report details how the NPS is taking steps to abandon mandatory attendance by its permanent law enforcement rangers in the academy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). The agency is instead seeking to principally rely on seasonal law enforcement training programs independently operated at non-NPS facilities, such as community colleges, across the country.
The shift would reverse a nearly 50-year trend towards steadily upgrading the training and professionalism in the NPS law enforcement ranger corps. The purpose of the plan is to reduce training costs by –
- Compressing a 16-week training regimen into 12 weeks;
- Forcing rangers to pay for their own basic training. Seasonal academy tuitions range from four to seven thousand dollars, which not all can afford; and
- Skimping on facilities and equipment. FLETC has a world-class laboratory, driving range, and structures for realistic simulations that seasonal facilities lack. For example, at one school trainees must use their personal vehicles for traffic stops. Others simulate stops with classroom chairs.
“U.S. Park Rangers have one of the most dangerous jobs in federal service,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that park ranger ranks have steadily fallen even as the number of park units and visitation keeps rising. “Challenges facing today’s National Park rangers are increasingly varied and complex, demanding more and better training, not less.”
Apart from reduced levels of training, the PEER report raises questions about the quality of training offered by these seasonal academies which claim to be accredited but –
- Accreditation addresses standardization of curriculum and does not assure equivalency of training or the student’s actual learning experience; and
- Many instructors are recruited “ad hoc” from nearby law enforcement agencies and are frequently unfamiliar with federal law and/or NPS policies and manual requirements.
“This sea-change is taking place behind closed doors without consulting affected staff or informing Congress,” added Ruch, arguing that the move conflicts with the Congress’ charter for the FLETC to fill “an urgent need for high-quality, cost-effective training by a cadre of professional instructors using modern training facilities and standardized course content.” “Significantly, the Park Service still lacks a confirmed director; major changes like these should await the arrival of permanent leadership.”
Under this plan, the Park Service would be the only federal land management agency not using FLETC. Moreover, the U.S. Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management all train their permanent law enforcement personnel at FLETC, typically in classes including NPS ranger cadets. Removal of the NPS contingent would constrain the training schedules for these other agencies.
Compare shrinking ranger force levels with rising responsibilities