Campus Life

Former Student Named National Park Service Acting Director

Texas A&M graduate David Vela will lead almost 20,000 employees, oversee all 419 NPS parks and manage a budget of almost $3 billion.
By Jacob Svetz ‘20, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications October 22, 2019

Portrait of David Vela
Raymond “David” Vela, class of 1982, has been appointed deputy director for operations of the National Park Service.

National Park Service

Raymond “David’ Vela, a Texas A&M University graduate and member of the class of 1982, has been promoted to the position of acting director of the National Park Service (NPS) effective this month. Per U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, Vela’s official title will be deputy director for operations.

“The honor to serve, now as acting director, and to lead the agency into its second century of service is not only a blessing but also a humbling experience,” Vela said.

“I owe my career in government, both at the state and federal level, to my experiences at A&M. The professors, the park service representatives who are still on campus, the networking, and the research opportunities, all helped to contribute to my career in the park service and provide me with valuable leadership experiences.”

In his new role, Vela will lead nearly 20,000 NPS employees, manage a budget approaching $3 billion and oversee all 419 NPS parks.

Vela brings nearly 40 years of public service experience to the role, most recently having served as superintendent of Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. He has also held various positions at San Antonio Missions Historical Park in Texas; Virginia’s Appomattox Court House National Historical Park; Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Texas’s Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Site. Vela has also served as superintendent of George Washington Memorial Parkway.

From 1987-1998, Vela left the park service and worked in a variety of other governmental roles, both on the national level and in Austin.

Vela was previously nominated for the position of Director of the National Parks Service by President Donald Trump in August 2018. However, Vela’s nomination never went before the full Senate before the 115th Congress adjourned in December.

Vela grew up in Wharton, Texas and graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in recreational parks and tourism sciences. His wife Melissa and children Christina and Anthony are also Texas A&M graduates.

Despite an extensive resume with the parks service and in public service, when asked about the most rewarding experience of his career, Vela said that “pinning a federal law enforcement badge on my son’s chest, watching him walk across the same stage I did in the early 1980s, and having 6 grandchildren experience national parks is such an honor.”

Vela said he highly encourages Aggies who are interested in pursuing public service to do so.

“Any time you can pursue causes greater than yourself, whether it is military service or government at the federal, state, or local, I would highly encourage it,” Vela said. “We need the next generation of public servants, and Texas A&M prepares students in so many ways, most importantly in the values of duty, honor, country that are reflected in the proud traditions of A&M. It makes Texas A&M students more suited for careers in public service, and we need them.”

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