Wildfire Today on Sexual Harassment

Bill Gabbert, of Wildfire Today, has a nice round-up of all the stories and news around this in this post.

He concludes:

Chief Tooke is, of course, innocent until proven guilty of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Our opinion:
This is a disgusting, demoralizing, distasteful, detestable scandal facing the agency where I spent 20 years. Looking at the sheer numbers, and knowing that allegations of sexual misconduct go all the way to the top, it is hard to fathom how anyone who has been mistreated can be optimistic that the harassment will stop, or that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

This HAS to be the Forest Service’s number one priority — clean up this wreckage that is festering within their workforce.

Would you recommend that your daughter, girlfriend, or spouse apply for a job with the U.S. Forest Service?

Of course, I would say absolutely apply for a job with the Forest Service! If you are in, say coop forestry, or research, or a NEPA or silviculture person, you can go for 30 years or more without sexual harassment. If you are a woman and you want to go into fire, well then I would look at the statistics comparing women in fire in the Park Service, BLM, BIA, FWS and so on… even state agencies. I wonder whether they are available? Any folks know of these? Based on what I know now, I would say “stay out of Fire” not “stay out of the FS.”

Fire is part of the FS, but it is not the FS.

13 thoughts on “Wildfire Today on Sexual Harassment”

  1. This whole episode – and yes, it’s been going on for a long time – but the FS probably has a greater proportion of its workforce in “fire” that when I started in the late 1980s – makes me think all the more that it is time to get the Forest Service out of the firefighting business. BLM has certainly done that in some geographic areas without any ill effects that I can see. The “span of control” is too wide right now in the Forest Service to allow line officers to have much effective oversight on their fire organizations.

    • M of T- I think that it’s a legitimate question.. “why fire?” and “could its standing in an odd organizational posture of sometimes having policy and management be determined on an interagency level,
      and sometimes on the agency level, allow bad things to slip through the cracks?”

  2. I suggest that these problems, given the examples from Wall Street in 90’s, entertainment, Congress and state houses in 2017-2018 are more endemic. In federal land management world — exhibit A- NPS. Sexual harassment included rape as well as other verbal and physical abuse. See e.g.

    I worked at DOE in 1990s, a lab employee was routinely sexually harassing women- solution, he would be transferred to a new DOE facility. This time he was coming from SE lab to DOE HQ. Shocking to me at the time, but viewed as the expedient way to deal with it by DOE management. And let’s not forget the EPA employee watching porno at work, similar guy was doing the same in USFS in West and was going to come to DC to work on a joint DOI/USFS Project — as ASLM I could say: NO WAY.

    • Thanks, Rebecca. I’ve noticed that various forms of having problems with employees can mean moving to the Regional or Washington Office- where often they are out of the public eye, get a chance to start over, and can be more carefully watched. Still it can send a negative message in terms of valuing RO or WO employees when the troubled are moved in…. “we don’t want this guy who watches pornography around the valued employees in the field.. but you guys.. oh well.”

      Back in the ancient old days, I thought it would have been good to have a “recovery” district or Forest for people to get a second chance..and a woman’s district or Forest for women who had had bad experiences with discrimination or harassment and needed a break.

  3. I’m a veteran of the FS and NPS and spent time in the fire ranks in each agency. I too am disgusted by the lingering culture of sexual harassment in an agency that, for the most part, I was proud to be part of!
    While fire is not the entire FS it certainly is a substantial element.
    The fire hierarchy is based primarily on experience and merit; you don’t become a division boss unless you know what you’re doing.
    It is time for the FS and everyone who cares about it to ensure that NO ONE ADVANCES in the fire hierarchy if they have any trace of unacceptable behavior in terms of harassment of either gender.
    As for the broader agency and my daughter, or women I know, I’ll withhold judgement until I see how the agency shapes up in the wake of these allegations. We need topnotch people in the agency and many excellent candidates are women. They must have confidence that they will be: accepted; respected; and properly treated by their male coworkers!

  4. Can anyone say that the FS is substantially better on this topic than, say, a year ago when Chief Tom Tidwell rolled out the new anti-harassment policy? Based on the evidence before us, it is hard to say “yes”. And what would need to happen to have confidence in a “yes” answer?

  5. “Substantially better” than a year ago? I doubt it. Better than a generation ago? According to the Merit System Protection Board, the civilian federal service has improved substantially since the mid 1990s with about half as many employees experiencing harassing behavior.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the Forest Service is an outlier. The military has much higher rates of sexual harassment and assault than does the civilian federal workplace. Military-like civilian agencies share the characteristics that predispose them to higher rates of sexual harassment and assault (harassment violates workplace rules while assault & rape are crimes). Few civilian agencies are more military in their organization and culture than the Forest Service, e.g., line officers, staff, chains-of-command. And no civilian work environment is more military than the Forest Service firefighting corps.

    Why not take the military out of the Forest Service? Eliminating military terminology and its ways of thinking would likely decrease the unintended consequences of this most patriarchal hierarchy.

  6. Those who work for the US Forest Service, including trail crew and office employees are allowed to become wildland firefighters and form a ‘Militia’ to go on fire assignments. Many seasonal employees do this because it is a money grab to help supplement their low wages with no benefits.

    The FS is turning into a fire centric agency. This is where the money is (since no one wants to pay to visit ‘public lands’), and with the climate changing the forest fire seasons are becoming longer and more intense.

    In the past few summer’s I have been living in a small town in the mountains of Colorado where the Forest Service is a large part of the community. While I was there I heard many stories, including both men and women telling tales of indecencies occurring on fire rolls. The environment is extremely ‘macho’ and it is something that even men deal with in the rankings of the group.

    Gender disparity is an issue, but I would not consider the problem with the employees conducting the hiring, but with the point system itself to become hired. There is a pipeline problem with how the government hires employees. It is set up to favor men and is extremely militaristic.

    Let me explain:
    In order to get hired there is a process the Forest Service follows. After filling out the application on USAJOBS.gov, your resume is sent to a regional office to be sorted, reviewed and then assigned points depending on your qualifications and other criteria. After that, the best-qualified candidates are then sent to corresponding Ranger Districts to then be sorted out to who gets an interview and then eventually deciding who gets hired.

    During the process of assigning points, there is a criterion noted as Veterans’ Preference –

    Stated on U.S. Equal Employment
    Opportunity Commission website -https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/ada_veterans.cfm

    “Veterans Preference Act, veterans with and without disabilities are entitled to preference over others in hiring from competitive lists of eligible applicants and may be considered for special noncompetitive appointments for which they are eligible.”

    Men dominate the Military and the entire Department of Defense.

    As a woman, I personally was discriminated during the hiring process because of the Veterans’ Preference. A male veteran was picked for a position that I had also applied for. Normally, I would not concern myself with this. I was told by several employees that were in proximity to the positions hiring process, that I was their first choice. and would have preferred to hire me. Unfortunately, because of the “Veterans’ Preference,” they had to hire this guy instead.

    The Veterans’ Preference Act should be removed, otherwise, the Forest Service and any other United States Governmental agency will be infiltrated with more men and military-minded folks.

    • Jess, I believe in Veteran’s Preference as I believe in programs to increase diversity. Still I think it’s a conversation about Fire especially and the culture. I also think there are more female veterans than there used to be but I couldn’t find the gender part of this spreadsheet https://www.va.gov/vetdata/Veteran_Population.asp

      If you’re increasing ethnic/racial diversity and if less than 1/2 of people in that professional or technical specialty are women, there is also a math problem if you look at the numbers by series rather than the whole. But is that the way to look at it? I don’t know. But it is worth talking about.

    • Would you feel differently if a Veteran or ethnic woman were hired, instead of you?

      One problem is that it is too easy to qualify for such entry-level jobs, allowing less-qualified (but more diverse) candidates to be hired. In many cases, it appears that the Forest Service cares more about diversity than skills and experience, ESPECIALLY in entry-level jobs.

      • Larry, this reminds me of my recent time at Theology School. I attended a progressive school that spent a great deal of time thinking about/trying to get rid of social injustice. In my example-oriented brain, I kept thinking about the injustice I had done to individuals in selections in pursuit of higher societal goals, like honoring Veterans and increasing diversity, which are also social justice issues. I don’t have any easy answers, and the older I get the more humble I am about all of this.

        For me, it was also hard to get my first job in the FS. When I graduated with my BS in 75 I was told that the FS (R-5) was not hiring women foresters, regardless of qualifications. So I kept going to school until a job opened up (and I was halfway through a Ph.D.). Of course, those were very different times, and so I did not expect hiring to be fair.

  7. Affirmative action is always a fun undiscussable topic. It seems like this is something that should be clearly spelled out in obvious places, but that has not been my experience. Including now with Google. Here’s the best summary I found (from a Clinton Administration report, but I suspect things aren’t much different today – discussing race but the principles would be the same for all protected classes – which are race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, genetic information and veteran status, with veterans getting preferential treatment under other laws).

    “(1) Not quotas. Policy and law prohibit quotas and numerical straightjackets, and we found no hint of evidence that these prohibited practices take place. Throughout the government, civil service statutes and regulations ensure adherence to merit principles. During the Reagan Administration, EEOC “deregulated” the agencies to provide discretion in whether to use goals and timetables. This flexibility allows managers great latitude in structuring their hiring and promotion policies. But managers must continue to monitor performance to make sure progress does not slow in building a workforce that draws upon the full range of talents and capacities of all citizens.

    (2) Race-neutral options. Although managers are encouraged to keep diversity and equal opportunity objectives in mind when conducting outreach and recruiting, these efforts are designed to ensure that hiring and promotion decisions are made from an inclusive pool of qualified candidates. Beyond that, actual decisions are made in accordance with the race- and gender-neutral civil service “merit selection” procedures established by law and regulation, so that race and gender are not given formal weight. For those positions in which interviews and subjective factors play an inevitable role, such as policymaking positions in the Senior Executive Service, anecdotal reports are that some managers may give flexible weight to diversity considerations. This is appropriate to redress a manifest imbalance, or when diversity is somehow relevant to the effective performance of the organization — but with the important caveats regarding avoidance of reverse discrimination as established in the caselaw. (The antidiscrimination enforcement mechanisms of the EEOC and the agencies are designed to prevent and remedy any abuses.)

    (3) Flexible. Since 1987, there has been no requirement that agencies use goals and timetables; instead, they are directed to focus on removing barriers to advancement. Accordingly, the programs vary among agencies and departments.”

    Here’s a definition of “parity” from another source: “Employment parity exists when the proportion of protected employees employed by an organization equals the proportion in the organization’s relevant labor market. Occupational parity exists when the proportion of protected employees employed in various occupations in the organization is equal to their proportion in the organization’s relevant labor market. Large differences in either occupational or employment parity are called systemic discrimination.”

    So I have always understood that parity is a goal for the workforce, but should not be used in individual personnel decisions. I also found that idea to be too nuanced for some people making those decisions. Especially when the performance elements for supervisors include diversity and their performance reviews focus on numbers.

  8. Well, at different times there has been a great deal of pressure to diversify the workforce to the extent that some higher level folks didn’t believe that folks could be trusted and the hiring decisions for a while were reviewed in the RO. There was talk of needing to raise the numbers (actually USDA’s numbers) but people were very careful talking about this because of course we weren’t supposed to do quotas.

    So I wouldn’t blame the supervisors for the confusion. In my view, the problems were (1) longterm FS footdragging which led to (2) draconian measures which were so draconian they couldn’t be spoken of very openly (we got the info from a person who was on phone calls with the WO) because of the slippery slope between targets and quotas and whatever it was we were doing.


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