The NPS Directives System

Our policies are designed to improve the internal management of the National Park Service (NPS). They also support our mission and organizational values, including teamwork, effective delegation, and employee empowerment.

National Park Service policies are guided by and consistent with the Constitution, public laws, Executive proclamations and orders, regulations, and directives from higher authorities. They translate these sources of guidance into cohesive directions for the effective management of parks and National Park Service programs. Policy direction may be general or specific. It may prescribe

  • a decision-making process,
  • how an action is to be accomplished, or
  • the results to be achieved.

Adherence to policy is mandatory unless waived in writing by the Director, the Secretary of the Interior, or the Assistant Secretary. We never rely on unwritten or informal "policy" and people’s various understandings of traditional National Park Service practices as official policy.

The NPS Directives System

The NPS Directives System consists of three levels of guidance that form a reference library of policy resources:

Level 1—NPS Management Policies

Management Policies is the primary Service-wide policy document of the National Park Service. It sets the broad framework, provides direction, and sets limits for making management decisions.

Level 2—Director’s Orders and Policy Memoranda

Director's Orders serve as an "executive summary" of important policies and procedures. They supplement and interpret Management Policies; outline requirements for National Park Service functions, programs, and activities; and delegate specific authorities and responsibilities to subordinate staff. They may articulate new or revised policy on an interim basis between updates to Management Policies.

Policy Memoranda are also considered Level 2. They fill time-sensitive, narrow-in-scope, or interim policy needs. The content may be incorporated into an existing or proposed Director's Order.

Level 3—Reference Manuals, Handbooks, and Other Helpful Materials

These materials give National Park Service employees comprehensive information and procedures for implementing Management Policies and Director's Orders. A typical reference manual or handbook contains a summary of relevant legislative, regulatory, policy, and procedural requirements. They may also include examples, illustrations, recommended or best practices, and forms, and other sources of information.

Regional directors, associate and assistant directors may issue instructions, guidance, and directives of regional or otherwise-limited application that supplement and conform with Service-wide policies within formal delegations of authority.

Superintendents may issue, within formal delegations of authority, park-specific instructions, procedures, directives, and other supplementary guidance (such as hours of operation or dates for seasonal openings), provided the guidance does not conflict with Service-wide policy.

See Director's Order #1: National Park Service Directives System for detailed information about the NPS Directives System.

Management of NPS Programs

Beyond managing the National Park System, the National Park Service administers a broad range of programs that serve the conservation and recreation needs of the nation and the world.

Although these programs operate mainly outside the national parks, they form a vital part of the National Park Service mission. Policies and procedures for these programs are summarized in National Park Service Programs.

Other Sources of Policy Guidance

There are also policies applicable to the National Park Service that lie outside the Directives System. These include guidance issued by the Secretary of the Interior and other Federal agencies, such as the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Personnel Management, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Last updated: August 29, 2023