My local member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Debra Haaland (D-NM), had before her the Deputy Director of the National Parks Service David Vela, testifying before her subcommittee on the National Parks and Public Lands. Like so many names in the top boxes on the Trump Administration’s governmental chart, Vela is an “acting” boss, a temporary Director of the Parks Service. He’d actually only been appointed Deputy Director in October.
So, he had an almost plausible reason why he couldn’t answer any of Congresswoman Haaland’s questions about a year and a half of TDY transfers of National Park Service Rangers to Border Patrol duty. The story of the Department of the Interior-Border Support Surge had been broken big by the USA Today network of newspapers across the country just 10 days earlier, but no one told Acting Director Vela. And, even worse, Vela told Rep. Haaland, no one in the Interior Department or the Park Service had told him much of anything about the Border Surge program.
Now say this about David Vela, he turns out to be a rarity among Trump Administration executive appointees – a career public employee. He spent decades in the Park Service as a Ranger and as the Ranger Boss in two Texas National Parks along the US-Mexico border. So, he knows something about Rangers and the Border.
So, what does it tell you, that the real Bosses at Interior and Homeland Security who put together this “surge” in Washington not only didn’t tell the acting director of Parks what they were doing with his Rangers, they never thought to ask him how they might best be used along the Tex-Mex border and westward?
And it’s not like Vela was some yokel who fell off a Park Service firewood truck. For a guy sent out by his bosses to be a tackling dummy, David Vela can sing an aria in bureaucratese as well as anyone.
The reporting is from our guest today, Karen Chavez of the Asheville Citizen Times and USA Today. Vela’s aria began with the bureaucrat’s perpetual First Commandment: cover thyself.
Chavez wrote, “Vela said he had only been on the job three months and hadn’t ‘been briefed as to what is being required and requested.’”
Then, quickly he moved to the Second commandment of bureaucracy: “cover thy bosses.”
“It is a briefing” he said with an apparently straight face, “I will be receiving soon.”
But then, Vela moved to the singer’s realm, ornamentation on the theme,
I Got Plenty O’ Nothin’”.
“Based upon the mission,” he told the Congressional hearing, “we will determine the number of assets that we will need. … I think that we’re learning about who we need to deploy, how long, the skill sets that are required. I hope to have answers to those questions myself in the near future based upon the mission and the purpose for the call out,”
When Vela had finished and the smoke had lifted in the hearing room, all Congresswoman Haaland’s main questions still hung unanswered in the air. How many Rangers have served at the Border? From where were they re-directed? For how long? To do what? Where? How well did it work out?
And, the Congresswoman asked, how could the “surge” be squared with the Parks Service’s supposed top priority: reducing a huge backlog of unattended maintenance issues. How does sending Rangers to the border help fix the National Parks?
One outside monitor of the Parks Service told Chavez we may never know the answers to any questions. “The overall mission is open-ended,” says Jeff Ruch “so it’s not like they’re there to accomplish a specific mission,” [and therefore] “There’s no measure of what they’re trying to accomplish.”