The National Park Service this month formalized a new rule barring people from working noncompetitively more than 1,040 hours per year in a seasonal position, but officials said they will take “corrective actions” to help those impacted by a shoddy roll-out of the change.
Last month, many seasonal NPS employees reported being unexpectedly locked out of summer jobs at parks after the agency changed the rules governing seasonal work. They said that the Park Service had previously encouraged employees to pursue multiple seasonal posts in a year and gave no advance notice of the change. Further, regional offices had begun applying the new rule with varying degrees of retroactivity, with some disqualifying workers from noncompetitive hiring exceeding the 1,040 hour threshold as many as 20 years ago. To make matters worse, some employees reported being informed of their change in status only after competitive application periods for their jobs had expired.
On May 15, the agency issued two memos formally announcing the new rule, which came in response to a 2016 human resources audit by the Office of Personnel Management. In that report, OPM ruled that the Park Service’s interpretation of seasonal employment rules, which allowed workers to effectively double up on seasonal posts without going through the competitive hiring process by considering each national park to be a “major subdivision” of the agency, was faulty.
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Effective May 26, the National Park Service began to consider NPS as a whole to be a “major subdivision” of the Interior Department, and as such, no seasonal park employee can apply for noncompetitive rehiring at another park if they have worked more than 1,039 hours in a 12-month period.
“OPM defines major subdivision as the bureau of a federal agency, e.g., NPS (major subdivision) under the DOI (federal agency),” wrote Nhien Tony Nguyen, NPS associate director for workforce and inclusion. “This means that a temporary seasonal employee who wishes to maintain non-competitive rehire eligibility may work no more than a combined total of 1,039 hours anywhere in the NPS within their service year. Temporary seasonal employees still have the option to compete and be selected for multiple temporary seasonal positions, resulting in a combined total greater than 1,039 hours; however, doing so will cause a loss of non-competitive rehire eligibility.”
Individual parks will be able to request exceptions to the 1,040-hour rule, similar to those requested for fire seasons, provided that park leaders can prove that they will be unable to open the park due to staffing shortages, unexpected inclement weather has impacted park operations, or recruitment drives have solicited an insufficient applicant pool or hiring delays.
The memos standardize that seasonal employees should be evaluated only going back to 2014, and orders parks to reconsider people who were removed from non-competitive rehire status as a result of longer standards of retroactivity.
“Any decision on non-competitive rehire eligibility based on a date prior to 2014 must be re-evaluated using this guidance,” Nguyen wrote. “This evaluation has a major impact on the non-competitive rehire eligibility of candidates, and a re-evaluation in accordance with this guidance may result in the restoration of non-competitive rehire eligibility.”
In an email to Government Executive, NPS spokesman Jeremy Barnum acknowledged the rocky roll-out of the new rule, and noted that the agency made “multiple appeals” to OPM before assenting to the new interpretation of seasonal employment regulations.
“We understand that there had been some inconsistencies in the application of the previous guidance, which caused some confusion and concern among seasonal employees,” Barnum said. “We are working with field HR offices and hiring managers to provide corrective actions to minimize negative impacts and [provide] consistent policy implementation moving forward.”
But officials with the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents some NPS workers, said making the new rule retroactive to 2014 does not do enough to make employees whole.
“Because NPS gave confusing or inconsistent guidance—or sometimes no guidance at all—many [seasonal workers] missed application deadlines or the uncertainty forced them to look elsewhere for employment,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said in a statement. “They were given permission and even encouraged to share their expertise by working different seasons in different parks, so it makes no sense that NPS would use that experience against them. The better solution would be to apply the stricter standard prospectively only and not punish those who exceeded the hourly limit in the past.”