Special Assistant to the Director of the National Park Service
On September 30, 2019, it was announced that Paul Daniel Smith would be leaving the role of acting Director of the National Park Service and instead overseeing the 2026 Independence Day celebration.
Previously, P. Daniel Smith was the Deputy Director of the National Park Service, with delegated authority to carry out the functions, duties, and responsibilities of the role of Director of the National Park Service. On January 24, 2018, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke named Smith the new Acting Director of the National Park Service, a role in which he oversees “some 20,000 National Park Service employees who protect 417 national parks.”
Smith, often referred to as “P. Daniel Smith,” is a longtime Interior employee who has a history of “putting the concerns of the rich over park protection.” Originally from Portland, Maine, Smith went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for both his bachelor’s degree and his master’s, and he also served in Vietnam. From 1975 to 1978 Smith worked for on Capitol Hill for Senator Sam Ervin, then went through the revolving door to work as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association from 1978 to 1980. From 1982 to 1984 Smith was the Assistant Director of Legislative and Congressional Affairs for the National Park Service, and from 1984 to 1986 he was the deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for Fish Wildlife and Parks. From 1987 to 1997, Smith worked at the General Services Administration, and from 1997 to 1998 was a staff member of the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands. Smith joined the George W. Bush administration’s Interior Department as a political appointee when he “joined the Park Service in 2001,” working “as a special assistant to then-National Park Service Director Fran Mainella” until 2004. During this time working for Director Mainella, Smith is most famous for “inappropriately interven[ing]” to help Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder bypass environmental laws so he could cut down over 130 trees to get a better view of the Potomac river. An Interior Inspector General Report found that Smith “‘inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures.'” After getting Snyder his “secret sweetheart deal,” Smith was transferred to be Superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park, where he worked until he retired in 2014.
[The Hill, 09/30/19, Department of the Interior, Order No. 3345, 05/23/19, Press Release, National Park Service, 01/24/18; J. Weston Phippen, “Meet Your Controversial New Park Service Director,” Outside Outline, 01/29/18; April Taylor, “New Virginia Colonial park service head braces for hectic reign,” Newport Daily Press, 12/01/04; Dan Berman, “NPS official ‘unduly influenced’ tree-clearing decision – report,” Greenwire, 05/22/06; Tim Craig, “Parks Official Is Blamed In Snyder Tree Cutting,” Washington Post, 05/19/2006; “P. Dan Smith Named Deputy Director Of National Park Service,” National Parks Traveler, 01/09/18; Rob Hotakainen, “Zinke juggles Park Service leadership,” Greenwire, 01/24/18; Darryl Fears, “Official who improperly helped Redskins owner cut down trees picked as National Park Service deputy director,” Washington Post, 01/06/17; Kurt Repanshek, “Former NPS Official Found To Have Overlooked Environmental Regs Said To Be Next Acting Director,” National Parks Traveler, 01/04/18; Tim Murphy, “Smokey and the Bandit,” Washington Monthly, 01-02/14]
Additional Background Information on Employers of Note:
Daniel Smith “inappropriately intervened on behalf of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder” to help Snyder bypass environmental laws and cut down over 100 trees on a Park Service-protected easement so that Snyder could get a better view of the Potomac River. An Inspector General report found that Smith inappropriately pressured lower-level staff to give Snyder this favor.
When he was Special Assistant to National Park Service Director Fran Mainella, P. Daniel Smith “ran into trouble,” when he got Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder “a secret sweetheart deal… to give [Snyder’s] Maryland home an unobstructed view of the Potomac River.” “Snyder wanted more than 130 trees removed to improve his view of the Potomac River. Smith helped Snyder get rid of the trees on a Park Service-protected easement between his Potomac property and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.” [Dan Berman, “NPS official ‘unduly influenced’ tree-clearing decision – report,” Greenwire, 05/22/06; Rob Hotakainen, “Zinke juggles Park Service leadership,” Greenwire, 01/24/18; Tim Murphy, “Smokey and the Bandit,” Washington Monthly, 01-02/14]
In 2000, Snyder paid $10 million for a riverside estate in the Washington suburb of Potomac. Snyder “couldn’t see any water from his waterfront property” because the C&O Canal National Historic Park’s trees were in the way. However, since the park was “designated a national historic site in 1971, any alterations to the land, no matter how small, have had to first pass through an intensive period of paperwork, environmental impact statements, and waiting. For thirty years, no modifications were granted.” [Tim Murphy, “Smokey and the Bandit,” Washington Monthly, 01-02/14]
Smith “intervened in 2004 to help Snyder remove the trees from a hillside between his estate and the C&O Canal and plant saplings to improve Snyder’s view of the Potomac River,” by pressuring “lower-level officials to approve a deal that disregarded federal environmental laws, harmed the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.” An Interior Inspector General Report found that Smith “‘inappropriately used his position to apply pressure and circumvent NPS procedures,'” and “left the agency vulnerable to charges of favoritism.” The report said that the “decision should have been left to park biologists and horticulturists,” who had warned of the ecological hazards of removing the trees. [Darryl Fears, “Official who improperly helped Redskins owner cut down trees picked as National Park Service deputy director,” Washington Post, 01/06/17; Kurt Repanshek, “Former NPS Official Found To Have Overlooked Environmental Regs Said To Be Next Acting Director,” National Parks Traveler, 01/04/18]
“After the report revealed his work on Snyder’s behalf, Smith transferred to the park that manages Historic Jamestowne, the Yorktown Battlefield and the Colonial Parkway in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia.” [Darryl Fears, “Official who improperly helped Redskins owner cut down trees picked as National Park Service deputy director,” Washington Post, 01/06/17]
Smith has supported turning “over operation of some National Park Service facilities to outside agencies.”
Daniel Smith, in 1986 when he was President Reagan’s deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, proposed “that the Department of Interior turn over operation of some National Park Service facilities to outside agencies.” Smith, along with another high ranking Interior official, agreed that there was “‘a probability that these (outside) organizations could operate NPS activities as well as NPS, and possibly at a lesser cost.'” [J.M. Johnson, “OFFICIALS URGE PRIVATE OPERATION OF US PARK FACILITIES,” Sacramento Bee, 03/28/86]
Smith refused to support a bill to protect national parks from water development projects.
Daniel Smith, in 1986 when he was the deputy assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, refused to support a bill to “prohibit expanding and building new Water development projects on nationalParklands.” The bill had been drafted in response to concerns of Yosemite National Park flooding after the possible raising of the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite National Park. [“INTERIOR WON’T BACK BILLS ON PARK NOISE, WATER PROJECTS,” Sacramento Bee, 05/21/86]
Smith supported legislation to make it easier to allow natural gas pipelines to cross national parks.
In 2002, when he was Special Assistant to the Director of the National Park Service, P. Daniel Smith testified before Congress in support of a bill to “authorize the Secretary of the Interior to issue right of way permits for natural gas pipelines within the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.” [P. Daniel Smith Testimony, Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands, 03/19/02; “Jenkins testifies in support of natural gas pipeline right of way in Smokies,” Newport Plain Talk, 03/27/02]
Smith is currently under investigation by the Interior’s Office of Inspector General for “allegedly making a gesture involving his genitalia” to another Interior employee.
“In a letter, an anonymous Park Service employee describes how on either Jan. 10 or Jan. 11 ,” P. Daniel Smith “‘grabbed his crotch and his penis and acted out as though he was urinating on the wall’ while relaying a story to another employee at the Main Interior Building in Washington.”
The employee did not sign the letter for fear of retaliation, saying that retaliation at the agency was “real.”
On March 23, 2018, the Interior’s Office of Inspector General confirmed that their office would “begin a probe into the allegation.”
[Dino Gradoni, “Internal watchdog to open probe into National Park Service leader for allegedly making crude gesture,” Washington Post, 03/23/18]