Public Service Consulting in the National Parks
by Stefanie Levner, MBA ‘12 (8/21/11)
Working for the National Park Service was challenging and rewarding in ways I never imagined possible in a government agency.
Working for the National Park Service was challenging and rewarding in ways I never imagined possible in a government agency. In addition to a complex and stimulating project, a team of innovative and forward-thinking managers supported me throughout the summer.
As an intern, I analyzed a recent human resources (HR) transformation and its effect on the consistency of service across the country, specifically in the Northeast and Intermountain regions. Based in the Intermountain Regional Office in Denver, I addressed the challenges of providing HR services across the decentralized agency: 394 units in 49 states make up the Park Service. In addition to being geographically dispersed, parks also have many idiosyncrasies in hiring requirements: A biologist’s job at Yellowstone National Park is extremely different from a biologist’s job at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland.
The National Park Service HR transformation centralized certain services and significantly consolidated the number of HR offices in the field. My analysis was multifaceted, addressing not only the qualitative effect the consolidation had on customer-service, but also the financial sustainability of the new HR organization and an operations-driven review of workload management.
The Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion’s client project prepared me well for the internship. The small-team consulting practice from the Immersion was immediately applicable, from the planning of the internship deliverable in the beginning of the summer to the final recommendations. The Johnson Core was also extremely valuable over the summer; Finance and Operations classes were particularly useful in modeling the future of the HR organization. The opportunity to test my recently gained knowledge helped me discover areas to concentrate on further in my second year.
My summer role was part of the National Park Service Business Plan Internship (www.nps.gov/aboutus/consultinginternship.htm), which attracts MBAs as well as graduate students in public policy, environmental management, and related fields. Each summer 10-15 students are selected as consultants. Consultants are then paired together for projects on-site at parks and regional offices. Projects range from full strategic plans for parks to analysis of challenges in a segment or division, such as concessions or visitor protection.
This year’s 11-week internship began with training of this summer’s 11 consultants together at a Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Training concentrated on the characteristics of the Federal agency and the many differences from the private sector, which could affect our analysis and recommendations, such as the annual appropriations cycle. The training week also allowed us to meet our project sponsors and begin mapping our project approach together.
The training landscape was nothing short of breathtaking (I saw a grizzly bear) and immediately helped me feel connected to the National Park Service aim to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” For a consultant such as myself, who was based in a regional office in Denver, the week in Grand Teton served as a reminder throughout the internship to focus on solutions that, ultimately, serve the parks.
I entered the internship hoping mostly to gain a better understanding public service consulting. I left believing that the National Park Service is (as Ken Burns’ recent television series title says) one of America’s best ideas and one of America’s best internships.