Personnel Policy Changes and Unintended Consequences- Advertising in Multiple Series

This story came up in my internet searches about the Forest Service: while it’s off the general topic, it does raise some interesting questions related to morale and administrative changes.

Here’s the link and below is an excerpt:

Hager left the INFRA program manager position in 2003, and the opening was advertised in February 2004. However, an intervening change in agency policy prohibited the Forest Service from posting interchangeable listings, so the job was advertised strictly under the professional series.

Here are ssome questions this story raised in my mind:

“if it was OK for a long time to advertise in multiple series, why was the policy changed?”

“Does the new policy help or hinder stated goals to get more diverse applicants available on certs?”

And “given the likely gender ratios in administrative compared to technical series, did that policy change have an unintended discriminatory effect?” (not related to this specific case, but worthy of examination on a broader scale)

Note: back when I was working, this cap on number of series caused a great deal of unnecessary work and annoyance. Hopefully, the policy has been changed back and this is now gone. There may be a good reason for this change, but if so, I am not sure that that was ever communicated to the rank and file.

I was also interested in these statements:

That is because she would have us ignore the time period shortly following her protected activity–the precise period when we ordinarily would expect any anger or resentment that her activity engendered in the Forest Service to be at its apex–and instead focus on a period almost two years removed from her protected activity merely because it was at that point that the Forest Service had its first opportunity to retaliate against her by taking a very specific adverse action,” Holmes wrote.

“[O]ur ability to draw … a causal inference from an employer’s adverse action” based on temporal proximity alone “diminishes over time because we may reasonably expect (as a matter of common sense) that the embers of anger or resentment that may have been inflamed by the employee’s protected activity–emotions that would underlie any retaliatory adverse action–would cool over time,” Holmes wrote. Conroy’s proposed approach, which focused on events nearly two years after her protected activity, “stands at odds with this temporal-proximity, causation rationale.”

Would that strong emotions always had that rate and trajectory of reduction! There would probably be fewer armed conflicts if it were that simple.. glad to know that legal organizations don’t have long-term simmering resentments..

12 thoughts on “Personnel Policy Changes and Unintended Consequences- Advertising in Multiple Series”

  1. Over the past several years we’ve been limited to classifying jobs only using one series. This has resulted in HUGE problems. Over and over again I’ve personally witnessed the situation where someone working in a job for several years simply can’t qualify for the same exact job on another Forest because, they were hired under a 301 series (misc administration) and the same exact job is classified somewhere else as a 401 series (biological sciences). It makes no sense. Is it too much to ask that we use common sense to classify these positions and consider if someone’s experience can qualify them for this classification?

    I’ve personally had to deal with this issue as well at great expense. My wife has a Masters in urban and community planning and is a standing memer of AICP (the American Planning Association’s professional institute). She worked on a Forest doing Forest Plan Revision for 5 years as a 101 series (community planning). When we began looking for other jobs, it became a major issue because we were told by HR she didn’t qualify for any other position in the Southwest in the Forest Service as currently classified. Her experience did not count even though there were the same exact jobs doing the same exact work on other national forests.

    So we began the long process of taking classes to get her qualified as a 401 series. She spent thousands of dollars and countless hours getting the required 24 credit hours to meet this requirement. Then when she applied for a 401 series job, we were informed by an HR employee that because her transcript did not indicate she was “degree seeking”, she still does not qualify as a 401, even though she has the credits. After several more hundred dollars and more courses, we tried again. This time, we were informed by an HR employee that although she was now ‘degree seeking’ and had 24 credits of accreddited university classes, they had to review the course descriptions to ensure they all included “biological sciences” in the description of the course. We’re still arguing whether a soils course fits within a 401 series…

    So, yes, this system of limiting series for jobs has major unforeseen circumstances. It’s starting to loosen up a bit now, but there are still substantial issues.

  2. MD- Your experience arouses my anger.. perhaps they are more in need of a Kali-like administrator than the gentle Glinda the Good.

    Meanwhile, before I left, planning folks were working on an effort to hire planners in the planning series (yes, I know, duh). As one of my dear friends says.. sometimes in the Forest Service, even the left hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing..

    FWIW, it sounds like total bureaucratic BS with the shifting nature of “what you’re supposed to do” that is so demoralizing.

  3. Hi Sharon,

    I know this issue has been on the radar in the WO for some years. We had several discussions with Fred Norbury about this issue in 2007 when he was Director of Ecosystem Planning. Fred seemed to be onboard and indicated that major change was coming. Unfortunately, it is now 6 years later, Fred is gone, and things are worse than ever. I don’t mean to be fatalistic, but it is hard for me to understand how things can have gone so awry.

  4. Again reinforcing my conviction that the F.S. as it now exists is a malfunctioning organization and is unfit to manage the resources in its custody. I’d love to be persuaded otherwise. Anybody willing to give it a try?

  5. I can commiserate with MD and offer my own story of FS HR follies.

    At Indiana University, I am pursuing a master’s degree in recreation with a specialization in outdoor recreation, in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies. This qualified me to be hired as a SCEP GS-0499 Natural Resources Student Trainee (Recreation), with the intent of moving into a 0401 interp/dev rec position. The RPTS department was recently involved in an internal reorganization, becoming part of the IU School of Public Health – as part of a holistic understanding of outdoor recreation’s role in human health and quality of life.

    However, when converting my appointment from SCEP to Pathways, someone in Albuquerque decided that because my recreation degree would now be from the School of Public Health, that I was no longer qualified for a GS-0499 position and the appointment would be terminated. *Nothing about my program, my courses, my research or my degree had changed* – only the name of the bureaucratic unit overseeing my academic department. But someone just saw “School of Public Health” on a document and decided “That can’t possibly have anything to do with the Forest Service.”

    It took three months of wrangling, sending course descriptions, impassioned e-mails, phone calls from supervisors, etc., but they finally decided that, in fact, I did still qualify for the position and could be transitioned to Pathways. But it was a nightmare that I won’t soon forget.

    • Yeesh! What a nightmare. It seems there is an overwhelming sense of protectionism that holds the ASC in its grip and leads to these bizarre decision. I wonder what the incentives/forces are that have led us to this point?

      • I think it’s a lack of direct accountability. When HR folks sat next to other employees, they were required to have reasons for decisions that caused difficulty (preferably that could be pointed to in policies) and were responsible to someone trying to get the work done, who understands what is important and what isn’t (like the degree awarded, not the department).

        But a simple solution, given the situation, is to have a couple of experienced and knowledgeable folks (retiree contractors? or someone not associated directly with ASC) form a review service. Line officers could request a review of the decision from this independent review service.

        But in my opinion the key requirement is for leadership to tell folks that they are unsatisfied with the status quo and are going to do something visibly different. Like establish an independent review.

        Otherwise, people can only surmise that some in leadership do not care enough to even attempt seriously and visibly to fix the problem.

  6. At least during the Bush outsourcing era, I understood the ideological motivations, e.g., private sector is more efficient. I could entertain more diabolical theories like making government so dysfunctional that folks want to drown it in the bathtub.

    I assume the incumbent administration does not share these motivations. Which begs the question, why has none of this been fixed? Perhaps it’s just plain old boring incompetence at the top?

  7. I tend to think that part of the problem is the belief that a qualified employee is just as good as a quality employee. It appears to me that the big HR problems cannot be fixed until the system completely crashes. The movement of HR to Albuquerque ensures that those people never have to see the ones they are supposed to serve.

    Before that, our Forest’s top HR person decided on hardline compliance with all rules, severely handicapping the ability of our Forest to complete essential personnel tasks, like seasonal hiring. Everything got so bogged down that she was “encouraged” to work somewhere else.

    When I get rejection notices from jobs I applied for more than a year ago, you know something is very, very wrong. One other item I would like to see corrected is when the position has been withdrawn. There is never a notification when that happens, and applicants are left hanging.

  8. At one time, when people weren’t getting paid, our region installed a Regional Hot Line and stood up a team of folks to figure out what was going on and to fix it. At least we did something to show people that we cared and wanted to fix things. Why couldn’t that be done nationally?

    The people at ASC seem very good.. but there has been something fundamentally wrong for years. It is sad for the daily lives of agency employees to continue to be sacrificed on the altar of the ideology of centralization, lo these many years after its initiation, IMHO.


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