If I was Chief . . .

No doubt tired of my whining, Sharon gently threw down the gauntlet — “what you would do if you were Chief for a Year to make things better.” Friday seems a good time to nibble at the bait.

I’d start my tenure by listening to Forest Service leaders. In 2004, Jim Kennedy (Utah State University), Richard Haynes (FS economist) and Xiaoping Zhou (PNW research forester) surveyed line officers gathered at the third National Forest Supervisors’ Conference. The officers ranked the “operational values” they believe the Forest Service rewards, followed by a ranking of the values that participants believe should be rewarded. Most rewarded, in practice, are (1) teamwork, (2) agency loyalty, (3) meeting targets, (4) professional competency, (5) hard work, and (6) promoting a good FS image. What should be most rewarded, the leaders say, are (1) care for ecosystems, (2) professional competency, (3) consensus building, (4) care for employee development, (5) responsiveness to local publics, and (6) concern for future generations.

These results suggest that line officers believe the Forest Service rewards loyalty to the organization, e.g., loyalty to the team, agency, and targets. Kennedy calls this “dog” loyalty: “Dog-loyalty is direct, unswerving, immediate loyalty to the master, that is, the boss or the agency.” Kennedy, J. and Thomas, J.W., “Exit, Voice, and Loyalty of Wildlife Biologists in Public Natural Resource/Environmental Agencies,” in Mangun, W.R. (ed), American fish and wildlife policy, the human dimension. In contrast, many of the values line officers want rewarded (care for ecosystems, consensus building, responsiveness to local publics and concern for future generations), exemplify “cat loyalty” – “a less master-oriented, broader, and more diverse loyalty to the household” – in other words, loyalty to the agency’s mission.

My first priority as Chief would be to work against the bureaucracy’s natural dog-loyal tendencies by pushing cat-loyal practices. Here’s a modest forest planning example.

Has anyone not used the web to find out how others rate a product, like a new car, book, or bicycle (after much research, my new racing machine is a Cannondale CAAD9)? So how about an on-line rating system for forest plans available to those implementing the plans (FS employees), those working on the national forest (contractors, special-use permittees, local governments), and everyone else (visitors)? Here are some rating questions (scale 1-5 with room for comments):

Does the forest plan help you do your job?

Is the plan easy to understand?

Does the plan tell you what you want to know?

A “dog loyal” organization might ask these questions, but would make sure that the answers are hard to find, hidden away in agency files. Cat-loyalists seek transparency because they want to improve their agency’s mission performance (“Caring for the land and serving people”), even at the risk of offending internal vested interests.

So what would you do as Chief?

3 Comments

  1. It’s not so good to be the Chief, these days. It’s no wonder that the Obama Administration took 7 months to even install a new one. It’s, bascially, a puppet position, beholden to the Undersecretary, who pulls all the strings. Tidwell didn’t even get to select his own Deputy!

    Yep, having “green shorts” and getting the cut out was the first measure of a PF-Willie. Even temps had to buy into it all to be re-hired the next season. I’ve always been a big fan of transparency, especially when showing off the skills and results of the loggers I monitored. In watching many hours of the roundtables, it’s not looking like the Obama Forest Service wants to be completely transparent, not talking about key issues. Salvage logging, in the face of an unprecedented 17 million acres of dead and dying forests, remains a taboo subject. Implementation of any new rule changes will be difficult, without skilled, field-going new employees. No one wants to talk about the near-impossible challenges of implementing the new ideas needed to deal with the horrible state of our forests. Personally, I think the Forest Service wants to ramrod their Let-Burn program down the throats of the taxpayers. You can let it burn, and whatever survives and grows back will be considered “natural” and “resilient”, despite the impacts to the environment, the rural economies and the stakeholders.

  2. If I were Chief, I would start by getting serious about our internal issues. I would start with the above kind of survey(found at a local hospital) –the FS is generally good at the speaking and hearing, but the changing and telling – not so much. It strangely resonates with the plan-do-check-act cycle, we’re good at planning and doing but checking and changing, not so much.

    I would pick the very best and most creative people and set them to figuring out approaches to deal with employee concerns. I would ask (at least once every two weeks) the team what they heard and what they changed, and what might keep them from changing to a better situation. If OMB, or the quest for a clean audit were the problem, I would ask them to investigate how other agencies and departments deal with the same requirements.

    If the problem still seemed insurmountable, I would publish them on a public website and ask the public for ideas. I might not last very long as Chief..

    I would focus my Chiefhood on various methods of streamlining, improving and harmonizing our approaches with other agencies.

    Second, I would establish a national advisory committee for seemingly intractable problems that need a broad base of support across political and social boundaries. These would include a planning rule, a roadless rule (or some other policy mechanism to resolve roadless), and recreation funding and fees. If they were successful with these efforts, I would get them started on monitoring (I would give the FS one last chance to get our act together).

    Thanks for asking this intriguing question, Andy.

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