Forest Service Leadership Sinks Morale

Forest Service Chief Tidwell responded this week to the agency’s “morale focus groups,” which convened in response to the Forest Service’s basement-dwelling rankings as a good federal agency workplace. In the survey, employees ranked Forest Service leadership 217th out of 223 federal agencies. Tidwell’s response? He appointed a new director for the Office of Communications “tasked to work on the effectiveness of our internal communication,” among other actions that also include a “major commitment to improving safety.” Tidwell thinks the troops have low morale because they just aren’t getting his messages and working unsafely to boot.

The good news this week is that Associate Chief Hank Kashdan is retiring. Kashdan played a key role in centralizing the Forest Service personnel functions in a new Albuquerque Service (sic) Center. This supposed cost-savings measure, for which there is no evidence of saved dollars, fouled-up hiring, payroll, travel, and other day-to-day chores that should be seamless in any well-run organization. Kashdan’s departure is a welcome start, but the exodus shouldn’t stop with him. That low-leadership ranking was also well-earned by Chief Financial Officer Donna Carmical who retaliated against Forest Service auditor Jeffrey Park after he blew the whistle on former CFO Jesse King’s travel embezzlement scheme. Former Chief Gail Kimbell earned the first-ever directed reassignment for a Chief when she recommended King for a performance raise even while he was being investigated for his malfeasance.

The housecleaning should also sweep up Chief of Staff Tim DeCoster who “reviewed and approved” Jesse King’s fraudulent travel vouchers. In addition to looking the other way as King fleeced the government, DeCoster’s position as Chief of Staff makes him the top day-to-day agency manager; a position he has held throughout the Forest Service’s steep descent to the bottom of the government’s morale rankings.

This better-off-without list wouldn’t be complete without the head guy himself, Tom Tidwell. Tidwell’s biggest failing is that he hasn’t done the housecleaning at the top that is needed to restore leadership as meaning something other than perks for the top dogs. Tidwell’s resignation would be the biggest boost to agency morale he has to offer.

3 thoughts on “Forest Service Leadership Sinks Morale”

  1. Andy- have you had any more thoughts since your “If I were Chief” post about the key things you think it’s important for a Chief to do- especially about morale?

    Also, having reread your previous post.. and reflecting on our recent discussion of how hard it is to find out information on vegetation acres treated.. I would submit that the difficulty is not from “dog loyalty'” but rather from unfettered hegemony of organizational silos. Silos are the places where people maintain power and control, often to the detriment of the organization as a whole. But in my opinion that is not about getting ahead so much as enjoying (through having more power) where you are now.

  2. What comes to mind when reading this is the many times while sitting around with a bunch of forest service and former forest service employees have I heard many people discuss their own unhappy “nut and shell game” move.” The conversation is usually something along the lines of I had a horrible supervisor, I made a complaint, things took a horrendous turn for the worse (no support from the faux union, district ranger, or region only support to make the complaint disappear), I took a transfer, I still get phone calls about what an unprofessional supervisor I left for everyone else to deal with that would not support the truth when I alleged a complaint. They have hired a new person for my former position and the cycle is starting over.

    Or the other un-favorite un-happy tale is as a seasonal employee I got injured through absolutely no fault of my own. The Forest Service will not employ me due to my on the job injury and I do not qualify for other jobs because of the seriousness of my injury nor do I qualify for disability……………….

  3. Yes, focus goes to the top; but, moral problem goes to the bottom where many FS positions run into petty jealousies between job-entraped personnel. “Ain’t it awful” ain’t the problem. I think moral problems signal either a lack of a common work objective, or the accomplishment of a common objective being frustrated by an “only child” kind of “looking good” leadership. I think you’ll find the highest level of Civil Service moral in units like the Forest Service’s Smoke Jumper units, and project levels of Forest Service research units. Also, I think you’ll find FS moral falls apart in the FS’s line and staff where the greener pastures of a fellow worker’s position can create envy, or the authority of a position fosters a “like it or lump it” attitude.
    I’m retired after 17 years in the private sector, and 25 years in the Forest Service. Square pegs don’t last long in round holes in the private sector, but seem to last as long as the square pegs can make dismissive excuses in the domain of Civil Service employment. I’ve been truly blessed and have good memories and friends from the work groups I’ve been able to work within on both sides of the fence – I think for the reasons I suggest above.


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