Yellowstone National Park’s human resources staff is deep in the throes of hiring up to 400 summer workers for its hectic tourism season.
“They’re really, really busy this time of year because everyone starts at the same time,” said Linda Veress, a Yellowstone spokeswoman.
One Wyoming seasonal worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Billings Gazette in an email that he's worried the employee processing is too slow. He was supposed to start in seven weeks but no background check — a standard procedure — had yet been initiated. Those checks typically take anywhere from six to eight weeks, he said.
Veress said some park seasonal employees are processed quicker than others. It all depends on how many people apply for a position, when employment offers are made and how quickly employees fill out the required paperwork.
“Some are on track, some are delayed,” Veress said, but it’s nothing compared to last year when the park was dealing with a hiring freeze under the new administration, she added.
“This year is pretty standard.”
Veress said most temporary employees are required to undergo a background check, which are conducted by the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. In 2016, the OPM subcontracted much of that work to the newly formed National Background Investigations Bureau.
According to its website, NBIB is the “first line of defense against insider threats to safeguard the integrity and trustworthiness of the Federal workforce. Over 95 percent of the Government’s background checks are provided by NBIB.”
OPM’s annual performance report shows the agency conducted more than 2.43 million background investigations in 2017.
Yellowstone is almost equally divided between permanent staff and seasonal workers. According to the park’s website, as of 2015 the park employed 330 permanent staff, only 176 of which were considered full-time. Another 146 are considered “subject to furlough” while eight are part time.
Veress said seasonal workers can be employed for only six months. “So most people don’t want to bring them on too early or they’ll have to quit before the season is done.”
Yellowstone’s peak visitation months are June through September, with July typically the busiest month. Last year the park counted more than 4.1 million people, the second-busiest year on record. More than half of those people visited in June, July and August. That’s about one park employee for every 5,600 visitors.
Whether visitation will increase again this year is uncertain. On Monday the Washington Post reported that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke may be backing away from substantially increasing park entrance fees at places like Yellowstone and Glacier national parks. Had the fees risen as originally suggested, some visitors said they would not visit.
A study published last year by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana showed increasing the national park entrance fee from $30 to $70 for a seven-day pass likely could cost Yellowstone’s gateway communities $3.4 million annually.
With the increase in fees the National Park Service estimated it would increase its revenues by $69 million.