6-3-4-5-7-8-9 (that’s my number!)

employeedirectory

Sorry, folks, the Forest Service has decided that you can no longer access its employees’ phone numbers or email addresses. In a taking-out-the-trash-timed move during the Holidays, the Forest Service deleted its on-line employee directory from the web. The former last-name searchable directory reported location, phone and email addresses for each Forest Service worker plus private contractors with FS email addresses. About 40,000 folks altogether.

How do I know how many? Years ago, FSEEE sent the FS a Freedom of Information Act request for this directory. “No such document exists,” was the response. Hmm . . . of course the data exist, but the FS said that FOIA does not obligate it to push the computer’s “print” command.

Dead end? Not quite. Turns out that anyone with internet access could push the button on-line and cause the agency’s computer to download the data. That was fun. Eventually, however, the Forest Service’s immune system caught on to our harvesting and blocked further access with those little American flag icons that overlaid each employee’s email address, turning simple-to-read HTML code into indecipherable garbage.

End-of-the-line? Not quite. One nice thing about the FS’s loathing of USDA oversight is that there’s almost no communication between the agency and its departmental masters. The USDA’s website had the same data, bundled up with its other agencies. So for several years we pointed our little automated harvesting machine to usda.gov.

Those gravy days of public accessibility are now dead. When you click on the”Employee Search” link, you get only the office phone directory, which, in case you missed it on the FS’s home page, has a duplicate link below called “Office Directory.”

24 Comments

  1. Sorry for ignoring comment considerations, but WTF!?

    What possible justification could the Agency have for that maneuver??? I frequently used that directory a lot if I didn’t have access to my work ‘puter.

    Some of the information currently posted in the office directory is 2 years or more out of date. Wonder who is supposed to keep that directory updated???

    Great….yep, best places to work for sure. Good grief.

  2. I recently ran into this rock wall too, involving a refusal to give out a cell number for time-critical contact of the federal agency moderator of a NEPA scoping event. As a community representative, that refusal prevented me from attending the teleconference discussion.

    “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” has taken on a whole new creepy meaning in these “Hope and Change” days of unprecedented whistleblower retaliation of federal employees. Equally disturbing if not more so, is the intimidation and prosecution of news reporters who refuse on First Amendment grounds to reveal the identity of whistleblower sources.

  3. I happened to see this.. had a couple of thoughts..

    First, is it really organized or intentional or just some random blip? Someone could call Public Affairs in DC and ask (or the Dept.). They don’t return my phone calls or emails, so I don’t think I can help with that. Maybe someone more legitimate than I (but not an employee) could get an explanation.

    Second, if they don’t respond to anyone, someone could ask their Congressperson for an explanation. If your Congressperson is responsive, they will send a letter to the FS for an explanation and they will (ultimately) respond.

    To me, it seems simpler to everyone just to ask the question and have Public Affairs answer.

    • I am — or was — a frequent user of the Forest Service Employee Search page (www.fs.fed.us/fs/directories/). Very handy. At times over the years it has been out of service for hours or days and then was restored, why or how I don’t know. So, this could be temporary. I’ll see if I can find out….

      • Like Steve, I, too, have noticed service interruptions over the years using this directory. An automated error message would pop up. This time, however, the FS’s homepage has been re-programmed to switch the link from the employee directory to the organizational directory. That seems like more than a brief, unanticipated, service outage.

  4. Following up on Sharon’s suggestion, here’s my real-time effort to get an answer about the missing employee directory.

    9:32 a.m. Called the WO Office of Communication’s director, deputy director, and both assistant directors. None is in. But, it is snowing back there today, some are probably telecommuting. It appears, however, that telecommuting duty does not include answering a telephone.

    9:40 a.m. Called the FS’s 1-800 main number. Pushed “zero” for a “public service representative.” Got a voicemail message saying that the Office of Communication is “moving” and would not be available to respond to public inquiries until after 12/25 — no year listed, so it’s possible the message refers to Christmas of 2014.

    9:58 a.m. Called Tom Knappenberger, Region 6 Director of Media Affairs. Tom’s voice mail msg says he’s out until 1/6 and call Sarah Levy’s number in his stead. Called Sarah. Her voice mail says she’s out on family leave until early February. Her msg says to call Margaret Peterson. So I call Margaret. Her voice mail says she’s out and to call Kathy Anderson or Tom Knappenberger. I called Kathy Anderson who is out until 1/6 and her msg said to call Sarah Levy. Been there, done that.

    10:15 a.m. Miracle of miracles, I found someone! Very nice public affairs gal who is new (3 weeks) to the FS and hasn’t got the memo to not answer her phone. She works in a regional office. She put forward the theory that the directory was taken down because it contains “personally identifiable information” that could be used by identity thieves. However, the still-public Organizational Directory contains the identical information, just for a narrower subset of employees. Also, the no-longer-available searchable directory is still available to all Forest Service employees on the agency’s internal web. So tens of thousands of people have access to this “personally identifiable information.” One of them could be an identity thief. [Needless to say, one’s office phone number, job title and government email address are not protected by the Privacy Act and do not give thieves access to your bank account.]

    Your Forest Service hard at work “caring for the land and serving people”.

    • The “Organizational Directory” is quite limited. It includes only several hundred of the tens of thousands of FS employees. And no email addresses. The disappeared directory is a different one altogether. Searchable by last name (or any first few letters of last name) and reports phone #, position, duty location & email address.

      It appears the second link Guy found accesses a dead letter box. No matter what search criteria are entered “No records were found” is the only answer.

    • And here is the NPS version. It does not provide duty stations, but does give phone numbers and email addresses.
      http://www.nps.gov/directory/

      The BLM version is organized by location and not searchable by name, but if you drill down you can find a complete listing including name, job title, email address, and phone number for each office.
      http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/directory.html

      No question the FS version that’s been taken down was a very usable and useful tool. The organizational directory is a woefully inadequate substitute.

      • Good find, Kitty. What I especially like about BLM’s employee directory is the job title. Even when it was available, there was never a good way to find, let’s say, the soil scientist on the Forest Service’s XYZ ranger district. BLM provides that information.

  5. Although I have a ready list of phone numbers of the USFS and BLM people I have been trying to reach since last October, my problem has been that very few of them even bother to return calls or respond to emails. First I blamed the fires that were taking place, then the government shutdown, followed by Thanksgiving, and then the early snowstorm and record freezes, followed by Christmas, and of course New Years. I didn’t even bother most Fridays because that has seemed to have somehow become a permanent government holiday for the past decade or so, especially when the sun is out. I still have calls and emails from October that have been unresponsive, despite two or three followup attempts in most instances (Stanislaus NF, Medford BLM), but this makes me feel better: http://news.yahoo.com/nuns-spain-red-faced-missing-call-pope-201303366.html

    In this New Age of Internet Communications it is somehow comforting to know that even the Pope can’t get through by telephone to a Convent of Nuns. The main difference is that my tax money doesn’t go to the Catholic church — it goes to help provide telephones and email services to BLM and USFS employees paid to answer the phone and to respond to public inquiries. In theory, anyhow.

    • I don’t think everyone being available all the time is good for people or society. Still, I know that if I had not returned a phone call within a couple of days, it would have been considered unprofessional. And it just feels good to talk to a human being and be helpful, even if only to tell them they need to call a different office.

      However, I learned that “talking to the public” is perhaps different from “talking to media” and one needs to be very sensitive about the latter, perhaps running answers up numerous time-consuming flagpoles. If you don’t ask (if it’s OK to give an answer) you can get in trouble.. if you do ask, you might never hear back (and you might get in trouble anyway). So I would be careful about attributing non-answering to an intent by that person of poor public service.

      It is professional, not to speak of humanitarian, IMHO, to leave a number where someone else can be reached if you are out.

  6. Just chiming in to say that I’ve been having the same frustrations with the loss of access to the FS Directory. I will start asking questions like Andy did but with people I know personally and ind out why this happened. It has certainly bogged down my ability to communicate with FS folks and makes zero sense. The “privacy” thing is a bogus argument for all the resons folks have already stated.

  7. I have found that the people I have business with, like the sales administrator or contract officer are very good at returning calls. If I want to talk about other projects, talk to the Disrict Ranger, Supervisor or their helpers, forget it, they don’t return emails, calls or letters. (Maybe if I signed them Oregon Wild it would help.) I have about four pages of phone numbers and emails of FS people I have had to deal with. The trouble is most of them no longer work there, so its like a moving taget. I didn’t know about the directory, but wish I had. What a good idea.

  8. Folks, a source at the WO says the USFS employee directory is “temporarily down while a replacement is being worked on.” No word yet when that replacement will be available.

    Seems to me the agency could have left the old version up and running until the new directory is ready. This temporary outage, especially one that goes unexplained, caused needless inconvenience.

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