JACKSON HOLE, WYO – In a politically-charged climate where no one seemingly in the current administration can hang on to a job, one top-ranking nominee is still waiting to hear if he has one. Even before the month-long government shutdown, former Grand Teton National Park superintendent David Vela was in a holding pattern as he awaited Congressional approval to become the first Latino to rise to the ranks of director of the century-old National Park Service (NPS). Now, with the 115th Congress adjourned, the process will have to begin all over again.
Vela was tapped by President Trump to head the NPS back in August 2018. The 28-year career park employee sailed through a Senate confirmation hearing in November but a full vote of the Senate never took place.
Here we are nearly five months after his nomination and Vela still doesn’t know if he’s got the job. In fact, Trump will need to re-nominate him as the clock starts over on the search for a new director.
As long as Vela has been in limbo, it’s nothing compared to the Park Service. It has been without a director for more than a year now. Michael Reynolds filled in on a temporary basis after the departure of Jon Jarvis in January 2017. Reynolds was moved by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in January 2018 to be superintendent of Yosemite, leaving Dan Smith as acting deputy director ever since.
If confirmed, Vela will take over an agency reeling from the effects of decades of backlogged maintenance, funding issues, sexual harassment allegations, and now a recovery from a 34-day government shutdown. Tough days are ahead for the NPS but Vela has said he is “ready to take on the challenges and opportunities facing our agency.”
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