Introducing CREATE and Goal 1: Track Costs and Create a Clearinghouse

Thanks to Derek, Tree and JZ for ideas. This post deals with the first goal of CREATE (formerly REAL), an acronym that I think we should stick with for a while.

First, Tree suggested that improving appeals and litigation processes is really too narrow of a focus (or that’s what I heard) and I agree. The point is that people disagree about how to manage public lands, and we should improve how we handle conflicts. It seems to me, and to others, that we could resolve them better, in a more public and transparent way, and with less expense.

So in responding to Tree’s ideas, I changed the acronym to CREATE. For “Conflict Resolution Effectiveness, Accountability and Transparency Enhancement”. It sounds more positive in the sense that we are looking for a more effective array of processes.

Goal 1 of the CREATE project is to make publicly available relevant information with regard to today’s processes. This is really part of Derek’s idea of “what people should be able to find out” or what I call part of the People’s Database.

I don’t know if any readers remember “Process Gridlock”; but I do, and I remember Fred Norbury’s question “How can we say NEPA takes too long and costs too much, if we don’t know how long it takes or how much it costs?”.

I’d like to expand that question to “if the FS is managing a conflict resolution process, we need the information on how it works and how much it costs, if anyone is ever to study it (and thereby procure “the best science” about this process).” Not to speak of the fact that the public deserves to know how much it costs.

JZ raises several good points in his comments on the previous post here.

A clearinghouse for appeals, litigation, appeal resolution/negotiations, NEPA costs, litigation costs, EAJA costs would be awesome….a one stop shop website that tracks and documents all that info would be extremely instructive.

And he goes on to say:

The real question would be who funds this effort?

As a person who has to respond to innumerable information requests, I can tell you it would take a fleet of full time personnel to archive and update this type of information. Not likely to happen in this climate of downsizing and budget cuts, although the IDIQ contracts already exist. Maybe there is a benevolent non-profit out there who would agree that funding the flow of (unbiased) INFORMATION is the highest and best use of their money with regard to public land management.”

I have a couple of thoughts on JZ’s point. The “keeping track of cost” question and the “filing information that is available somewhere in a central location” are separable problems, in my view.

First, let’s think about costs. What if the FS said it was “too expensive” to keep track of fire costs. I mean, after all, there are multiple federal agencies involved and often states.. it’s just too expensive to keep track of that… So the FS could tell OMB, “sorry, we know you are curious, but we just can’t afford it.” Methinks that would not work ;).

Most business or government folks would tell you that you can’t make wise management decisions without knowledge of costs. And the FS would have to add its costs to OGC’s costs and DOJ’s costs for litigation, so just the FS, and not even just USDA, would have to agree to keeping track of costs. Whoops, I forgot the energy projects I used to work on, where the FS and the BLM and all our mutual lawyers were working on the same lawsuit. This sounds like a possible task for legislators to me (to require it), if OMB doesn’t ask the question. Which would also make me wonder, why is OMB so apparently curious about fuels treatment costs and not so much about litigation costs? Am I missing something?

And if only through “cuff records”, it would not be that hard to keep track of people’s time. Once litigation is begun, for example, people could be asked to keep track of their time, and when they turn in their biweekly timesheet, they also enter hours for each lawsuit into a tracker. Oh, also the work of putting on a “litigation hold” on everyone’s emails and files.

I think it would be very interesting, when I think of meetings with SES people, conference calls with multiple lawyers, etc. in my experience. I think that neither the FS, nor OMB, nor Congress, have the most remote idea of the personnel or other costs involved in litigation.

Second, let’s talk about a clearinghouse of currently available if difficult to find information. Thanks to my experience with other E-NEPA efforts, it’s really about making it easy for folks to post to some central place, and restricting access to those authorized. At the end of the day, having it all posted would make it easier to respond to FOIA’s and possibly save time. So I’m not sure that it would be that expensive to establish a place for people to post things (when you get notes from a settlement discussion, send to x and it will automatically post).

But even if neither the FS nor foundations would not pony up the bucks, we could use either volunteer programmers or volunteer filers. Under this approach, the information would be outlined and when a person got the notes done, or saw a settlement agreement, they would send to an external group of volunteers for posting. There are many folks who have disabilities of one kind or another, in hospitals, prisons, etc., for whom volunteer work on the computer would possibly be a great gift. There is a potential area for partnerships. FS retirees could possibly organize these groups. Even if this worked for,say, 30% of the data, that would be 30% more than we have today, and perhaps enough for academics and others to begin to look more deeply into these processes.

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