28 January 2009 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 18 comments

Late last October, it was announced that Gettysburg National Military Park Superintendent John Latschar was going to retire to assume the presidency of the Gettysburg Foundation at a major salary increase. I seriously questioned the ethics of this job move in a couple of posts here. Kevin Levin disagreed with me in a comment to his post, finding nothing wrong with the ethics of the situation.

Well, as the following press release from the National Park Service plainly demonstrates, there was something fishy about this situation after all. After being reined in by the NPS ethics people, who finally woke up and realized that there serious conflicts of interest inherent in this situation, Latschar has now reversed field, announced that he won’t take the position with the Gettysburg Foundation, and that he will remain as superintendent of the GNMP:

Latschar to remain in current post as Gettysburg Superintendent

Gettysburg Superintendent John Latschar will remain in his current post, reversing his decision to retire and become president of the Gettysburg Foundation. Latschar made the decision following advice by Department of the Interior ethics officials that would have severely curtailed his ability to work with the park in his new role with the Foundation.

When initially approached to consider heading the Gettysburg Foundation, Superintendent John Latschar did what any responsible federal employee should do, said National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Dennis R. Reidenbach. He contacted National Park Service ethics officials, and he also contacted me as his supervisor.

When initially informed by the Washington office in October 2008 that there was no ethical issue in accepting the position, Latschar announced his retirement. Subsequently, Department of Interior ethics officials issued supplemental guidance because of Latschar’s involvement in developing agreements between the Foundation and the NPS.

“The Foundation obviously would have been honored to have John as its next president,” said Foundation President Robert C. Wilburn. “But we are thrilled that he will continue to facilitate our successful partnership as superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park.” A search committee to find Wilburn’s successor is in place; Wilburn will postpone his departure from the Foundation until a successor is named.

“I had been looking forward to the challenges of moving to the private sector and working for the Gettysburg Foundation,” said Superintendent John Latschar. “However, I can’t complain about going back to the best job in the National Park Service as Superintendent of Gettysburg NMP and Eisenhower NHS. We’ll now redouble our efforts to make our wonderful partnership with the Gettysburg Foundation the best that the National Park Service has ever seen.”

“The Gettysburg Foundation’s loss is the National Park Service’s gain, and I am happy that John chose to remain as superintendent,” said Reidenbach. “The situation with the ethics guidance was unfortunate, but John Latschar and the Gettysburg Foundation have always maintained the highest ethical standards possible.”

Personally, I’m glad that the ethics people finally woke up and realized that they needed to do something about the huge conflict of interest inherent in this transaction, and that they took steps to stop it. It just never smelled right to me from the very beginning, and I was shocked that they didn’t have the same reaction to what seemed to me to be a very obvious problem.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Wed 28th Jan 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Thanks for the link Eric, but I am not sure I ever said there was “nothing wrong” with the decision. Perhaps I did, but the post you linked to doesn’t make that claim at all. I spoke out at a time when everything Latschar did was being criticized and in a way which made very little sense to me.

  2. Wed 28th Jan 2009 at 10:41 pm

    Thank you for pointing that out to me, Kevin. I’ve now corrected the link.

    Eric

  3. Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 4:13 am

    The timing of the ethics revision in this instance may be coincidental, but new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar held a news conference Wednesday morning pledging to address what he termed ethics transgressions within the Interior Dept.

    The secretary was referring to different incidents, but it seems as though Interior’s ethics climate has changed since the first review of Supt. Laschar’s proposed move to the Foundation.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/28/AR2009012803517.html

  4. Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 6:37 am

    Thanks Eric.

  5. Art Bergeron
    Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 9:56 am

    For what its is worth, I heard from sources I consider reliable that Laschar himself requested the ethics review.

  6. Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 10:03 am

    Dave,
    I think the timing is more coincidental than anything else. There’s been a slowly building push in DoI in general with regard to ethics enforcement. There’s been a “you better clean up your act or we will!” attitude from outside agencies for a year and a half now. Somewhat reminiscent of what happened in DoD during the tanker controversy.

    I think in Lashar’s case, we are simply seeing that after much wrangling internally, DoI has finally given the ethics officials enough power to say what needs to be said.

    Or alternatively, the Hon. Sec. Salazar reads Eric’s blog….

  7. Randy
    Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Eric:
    I agree with your assessment regarding the ethics questions surrounding the move and I’m glad to see this change. Personally, I’d probably prefer that Latschar be in neither position, but that’s just me.

    Randy

  8. Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Dave,
    Thanks for the article link. I think that has much to do with it.

  9. Rick Allen
    Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 5:15 pm

    I always thought it was smarmy……..probably perfectly ‘legal’, but I always thought it was slick as owl shit.

    I support the guys efforts on rehabbing the field 100%, (though I can nit pick Colt Park and Stevens Knoll.)….but personally, I thought it was tremendously ballsy to publically defend a 387K gig with the Foundation and then slip seamlessly into the job yourself? Whatever the truth may be seems almost irrelevant…..it just looks bad, and you know what they say about perception.

    Sounds like somebody in DC came to the same conclusion.

  10. Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 6:15 pm

    That’s going to make for a mighty uncomfortable break room.

  11. Rick Allen
    Thu 29th Jan 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Mannie, that be the most accurate thing I have heard yet……….LOL

  12. Sean Dail
    Fri 30th Jan 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I’m probably off-base, but I can’t help but wonder whether this development has something to do with there being a new sheriff in town, so to speak, who has shown a tendency to insist on ethics in government. It’s not hard to believe that the Bush administration folks told Latschar that everything was okay, but people like Eric and me – who have to take courses in ethics constantly in order to maintain our bar membership – saw a huge problem with Latschar’s proposed move.

    If Latschar did call for the review, good for him, but perhaps it was simply because he didn’t want to run the risk of getting that call, a few months after making the switch, telling him that he was going to have to resign from his new position.

  13. Fri 30th Jan 2009 at 7:25 pm

    Sean,

    Either way it reflects positively on Latschar.

  14. Fri 30th Jan 2009 at 8:05 pm

    The Gettysburg Times has an article (http://www.gettysburgtimes.com/articles/2009/01/30/news/local/doc4982ed904da8a778227251.txt) quoting the not-retiring-quite-yet superintendent that the change in presidential administrations has nothing to do with the revised ethics decision preventing his move to the Foundation.

    But just-in-case transition planning began long before Election Night, and given the earlier scandals at Interior, you had to imagine that department was destined for some extra ethics-related scrutiny during the transition. And when the news of the proposed Laschar move to the Foundation came out in October, it was likely added to the list of items the incoming administration wanted to review as soon as it could.

  15. Fri 30th Jan 2009 at 8:06 pm

    PS – Sorry about the ugly link in the earlier comment.

  16. Tom Clemens
    Sat 31st Jan 2009 at 12:01 am

    Rumor I have heard within the NPS credits the “new sheriff in town theory” but nothing solid. I’m with youEric, never liked “the deal” in the first place. Even if somebody judged it ethical, it didn’t pass the sniff test with me.

  17. Sean Dail
    Sat 31st Jan 2009 at 8:21 pm

    Kevin,

    As Tom notes, the deal never passed the “sniff” test. If the only reason Latschar requested the review was to save himself from being unemployed a few months down the road, I don’t see how you can say that reflects positively on Latschar – other than to demonstrate that he is politically astute and could see the writing on the wall. And I don’t think any of us every questioned whether he was smart – the question is whether he has a good sense of ethics.

    To be honest, when you study ethics in the context of law and government, things are not always clear. But one of the things you always strive for is to avoid “even the appearance of impropriety.” This deal never passed that test, and it should have been obvious to Mr. Latschar from the beginning that it did not. He has been in government service for a very long time.

  18. taylor
    Tue 30th Nov 2010 at 4:18 pm

    after all this ethics talk .. the Foundation appoints an NPS Supt to the post of President afterall .. curious. I don’t think the NPS played ‘fair’ with Dr. Latschar and just 1 1/2 out from his dismissal, another NPS Supt takes the lead.

    Gettysburg Foundation names new president
    Joanne M. Hanley selected to lead national preservation organization

    Gettysburg, Pa. (Nov. 29, 2010)— The Gettysburg Foundation today announced the selection of Joanne M. Hanley as president. She currently serves as general superintendent, National Parks of Western Pennsylvania—including Flight 93 National Memorial and Fort Necessity National Battlefield. Hanley will begin her new position Feb. 1, 2011.
    “Ms. Hanley’s experience with National Park Service partnerships and nationally significant sites represents the perfect leadership mix for the Gettysburg Foundation,” said Foundation Chairman Robert A. Kinsley. “Her commitment to our nation’s history and her track record at nationally significant sites is a perfect complement to our important partnership at Gettysburg.”
    The Gettysburg Foundation’s broad preservation mission includes the funding and operation of the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center as well as a long history of projects in the areas of land, monument and artifact preservation, battlefield rehabilitation and education.
    “ I am deeply honored to be able to work to continue our nation’s legacy of remembrance in this new capacity at Gettysburg,” said Hanley. “ I hold the partnership between the public and private sector at Gettysburg – between the National Park Service, the Gettysburg Foundation, and the other partners – in high esteem. What has been created there is an amazing testimony to cooperation and collaboration that must continue to succeed. ”
    Hanley’s previous positions include: Superintendent of Women’s Rights National Historical Park (Seneca Falls, NY), Interpretive Planner, National Capital Regional Office; Site Manager, Glen Echo and Clara Barton National Historical Sites (Glen Echo, Md.); Concessions Management Specialist, George Washington Memorial Parkway; International Cooperation Specialist, Office of International Affairs; Natural Resource Specialist, Mt. Rainier National Park; and Environmental Specialist, Denver Service Center.
    “Having worked with the staffs and the community on behalf of Gettysburg’s preservation, it was quickly evident that Joanne’s vision and respect for our nation’s history makes her the perfect complement to our partnership and the daily operations of the Gettysburg Foundation, ” said Foundation Vice Chair Barbara J. Finfrock.
    Hanley holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Long Island University, Southampton, New York and a master’s degree in environmental science from Washington State University.
    “While we will be sad to see her leave, Joanne’s immense experience in working with partners and foundations, coupled with her knowledge of the Park Service, will serve both the Foundation and Gettysburg National Military Park well in the years ahead,” said National Park Service Northeast Regional Director Dennis R. Reidenbach.

    The Gettysburg Foundation is a private, non-profit educational organization working in partnership with the National Park Service to enhance preservation and understanding of the heritage and lasting significance of Gettysburg. The Foundation raised funds for and now operates the Museum and Visitor Center at Gettysburg National Military Park, which opened in April 2008. In addition to operating the Museum and Visitor Center, the Foundation has a broad preservation mission that includes land, monument and artifact preservation and battlefield rehabilitation—all in support of the National Park Service’s goals at Gettysburg.
    For information about the Foundation, about visiting Gettysburg, or how you can become a part of the history of Gettysburg through your contribution, visit http://www.gettysburgfoundation.org or call 877-874-2478 or the administrative offices at 717-338-1243.
    —30—

    Dru Anne Neil
    Director of Marketing and Communications
    Gettysburg Foundation

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