The OPM Audit and What it Means for Seasonal Employees

About two years ago the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) conducted an audit of the National Park Service’s hiring practices. Recently, they announced their findings. What they found was that the NPS was abusing their hiring authority. This was not so shocking for those us who work the NPS. With the shrinking budget, corners have had to be cut to be able to continue to operate at the same level we have been for years. However, the changes put in place to correct these issues are going to make a huge impact, especially for seasonal employees, Here is what you need to know.

One Season

One of the reason that there have been so few permanent positions is that those positions simply cost more. Benefits such as retirement and health insurance need to be paid which is not the case for seasonal employees. In the past the NPS has gotten around hiring permanent employees by hiring both winter and summer seasonals. That is no longer allowed. Parks can choose to hire either winter OR summer seasonals. They have to establish one six month season. On one hand this is good because it forces parks to hire more permanents. On the other hand, most parks don’t have the funding for that which will simply mean a decrease in staffing while visitation continues to climb. Another thing to keep in mind is that parks like Zion or Grand Canyon that have a ten month busy season will only be able to have extra employees for six of those months. In an ideal world, parks like that would be able to hire more permanent employees, but that is all dependent on budget. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.


In the park service you will hear the term 1039 very often. This refers to amount of hours that a seasonal is limited to working, which is basically six months. In the past many seasonals have worked a full 1039 in one park and then transferred to another park and worked a 1039 there, spending years hopping between two parks. Right now the ability to do this is in limbo. At first the OPM wanted to limit people to only working one 1039 a year. No more hopping between parks. Now it seems as if they may limit it to one 1039 per region a year. The details are still fuzzy. To make it easier to understand here is an example. Lots of people I know spend their summers working in Yosemite and their winters in Death Valley. At first it seemed like they would only be able to pick one of the two and just not work for the NPS the other six months of the year. Now it seems like they may be able to work two seasons a year, as long as one of the seasons is in a different region. So instead of working at Death Valley for the winter they would need to work in park across the country, say, the Everglades.

These are just some of the changes happening, and it seems like every time we turn around more are being announced. Stay tuned for more I am sure. In the long run these will all be good changes, but at the moment it’s a lot of upheaval for both seasonals and parks who are dependent on them. Many of my friends have found themselves unemployed and searching for winter jobs in other fields. For those of you still in school and hoping to get into the field, just keep all of this mind as you apply for jobs.