Policy Development Process

Illustration of the policy development process
This infographic illustrates the policy development process

NPS / 2019 GOAL Academy Team

Policy initiatives may develop as a sudden, urgent response to an unanticipated problem or issue, or through a slow, evolutionary process where the Service gains increased experience or insight about a problem or issue. Sometimes we develop policy to comport with an Executive Order issued by the President, guidance from another Federal agency (such as the Office of Personnel Management or General Services Administration), or policy issued by the Department of the Interior.

NPS policy is usually developed through a concerted work group and consensus-building effort, involving extensive field review, consultation with the National Leadership Council (NLC), and review and comment by the public.

The Office of Policy coordinates the preparation, analysis, review, and communication of NPS policies.

NPS employees can participate in the policy development process by

  • Serving on a work group that has been assembled to develop new or revise existing policy

  • Providing input as a subject matter expert

  • Offering comments during the formal review and comment phase

Updates to Management Policies

Management Policies is updated through a systematic process that can take several years and involves internal and external review. The Director approved the current edition in August 2006.

The first edition of Management Policies was released in 1975. It replaced three separate natural historical, and recreational area policy manuals with a single-volume publication that addressed the range of characteristics a unit of the National Park System might possess. Subsequent updates were released in 1978, 1988, and 2001.

Development of Director’s Orders and Policy Memoranda

Director’s Orders (DOs) are usually initiated by program managers and developed with extensive field input and internal and public review. The Director, an associate or assistant director, or program manager usually requests development of a Policy Memorandum (PM) in response to an issue. The standards, principles, steps, and expectations requirements for PMs mirror those for DOs but in scaled-down, expedited manner. While it can take a year or more to develop and finalize a DO, a PM is often completed in less than a year.

The Office of Policy works with the project leader throughout the policy development, review, and approval process. The office provides guidance on policy standards, authorities, content, and formatting, clears draft policy for formal review, and prepares the final document for the Director’s signature.


Following is the step-by-step process for developing, reviewing, and approving Director's Orders and Policy Memoranda.

Identify Project Leader and Gather Background Information

  1. Appoint project leader
    • Originating office (Director, associate or assistant director, or program manager) selects a subject matter expert to lead the policy development project
  2. Project leader
    • Consults with Office of Policy about proposed DO or PM
    • Identifies and gathers all policies, guidelines, staff directives, special directives, memoranda, and other forms of guidance that have been issued on the subject matter
      • Interim policy to be issued through a PM should identify where the guidance will ultimately be found in the Directives System, such as in a new or updated DO
    • Assembles work group or committee with representatives from applicable disciplines or professional fields to help write the policy (an interdisciplinary, team approach is encouraged).

    • Evaluates need for a communications plan and consults with Office of Policy and Office of Communications as necessary
  3. Office of Policy
    • Provides examples of DOs or PMs, standards, related procedures, and helpful tips

Draft the DO or PM

  1. Project leader and work group write the draft policy
  2. Informal review
    • Project leader and work group seek input from subject matter experts, interested staff and stakeholders, and Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office. There may be several rounds of review, especially for a draft DO.
    • Project leader sends draft policy to Office of Policy
  3. Office of Policy
    • Reviews the draft as many times as necessary and reaches consensus with project leader and originating office. Several drafts may be involved
    • Ensures document is formatted correctly
    • Checks for plain language
    • Verifies any superseded guidance documents
    • Verifies statutory, regulatory, and Departmental Manual citations
    • Checks for appropriate policy cross-references
    • Activates hyperlinks

Formal Review of a Draft DO

There are two formal review and comment phases:

  • 30-day, 45-day, or 60-day—30 or 45 days is typical for an updated DO, 60 days is standard for a new DO
  • 14-day NLC—review of final draft before preparation of final for Director’s approval
  1. Policy Office and project leader coordinate method and timing of Service-wide (internal, through NLC) and public (external, via Federal Register notice) review and comment periods
    • Office of Policy enters document package (draft DO and briefing statement) into Data Tracking System (DTS) with appropriate routing for clearance through NPS directorates, Department of the Interior Solicitor’s Office, NPS Chief of Staff, Deputy Director, and Director
    • Policy Office submits Federal Register notice package for clearance through AD, Solicitor, Director, and DOI Executive Secretariat
  2. 30-Day, 45-Day, or 60-Day Review and Comment Periods
    • Internal and external review and comment periods may be sequential or concurrent
      • Internal--draft DO is released to NLC to distribute for internal, Service-wide review and comment
      • External--publication of Federal Register notice announces availability of draft DO for public review and comment
    • Post draft DO on public-facing website,
  3. Receive and Analyze Comments, Revise Draft
    • Project leader
      • Receives, analyzes, and summarizes comments, including comment disposition (such as change to DO, no change, or detail more appropriate for Level 3)
      • Revises draft and sends it, with summary of comments, to Office of Policy
    • Office of Policy
      • Ensures draft is revised appropriately and makes necessary edits
      • Mediates unresolved policy issues
  4. 14-Day NLC Review
    • Office of Policy sends revised draft and summary of comments to NLC for final review

Formal Review and Revision of a Draft PM

Review is usually internal to the NPS

  1. Office of Policy and project leader decide on timing and desired levels of review
  2. Office of Policy
    • Enters document(s) into DTS with the appropriate routing list
    • Clears them through the Solicitor’s Office
  3. Project leader and work group
    • Receive and analyze comments
    • Revise draft based on comments

Finalize and Approve

  1. Project leader
    • Prepares final DO or PM and any supplemental materials, such as a briefing statement and FAQs
  2. Office of Policy
    • Works with project leader to prepare the final DO or PM
    • Formats final DO or PM on NPS letterhead, ensuring it meets digital accessibility requirements
    • Reviews draft summary statement and supplemental materials
    • Prepares cover memo from Chief of Policy, through associate or assistant director and Deputy Director, to Director
    • Enters document package (final DO, Chief of Policy’s transmittal memo, summary of comments and document changes) into DTS
      • Solicitor’s Office is included for review of DOs with potential legal issues, unless program manager or project leader has already done so
    • Forwards finished product to Director for approval


  1. Office of Policy

What happens after policies are approved and issued?

All NPS employees are responsible for knowing and adhering to policies and other requirements that are issued by the Director or by an associate or assistant director who has been delegated appropriate authority

After approval of a Director's Order

  1. Program manager, as assigned by associate or assistant director, develops Level 3 materials (reference manual, handbook) to supplement DO
  2. Associate or assistance director approves and distributes final Level 3 materials following guidance in DO #1 and DO #70

After approval of a Policy Memorandum

Following the DO checklist steps, the responsible program manager:

  1. Starts development of a DO, regulations, or other guidance required by the PM
  2. Undertakes revisions to any other DOs identified in the PM

Last updated: September 28, 2023