Short-Sighted, Ineffective and Stupid: Michael Rains on Potential Job Corps Transfer


For those of you not familiar with the Forest Service Job Corps program, it’s a training program for at-risk youth to help them learn job skills.
For some reason (“efficiency?”), the Department of Agriculture apparently wants to close some and move the rest to the Department of Labor.

Here is a piece from Michael Rains on the Evergreen website that calls the idea “incredibly short-sighted, ineffective and stupid.” I’m with Michael, and I just don’t get why of all the important potential things to fix, Perdue et al. would find one that isn’t at all broken. Like I said, I get the idea of efficiency at some superficial level (the flip chart level of analysis), but there are plenty of voices that say the Job Corps is part of the heart and soul of the Forest Service, and those voices should be listened to. The Secretary may have poked the slumbering retiree giant. When an EA or a project is long done, the spark the FS will light in a youth may brighten families and communities, and ripple through generations.

NAFSR has ideas for how to raise our voices:

We have heard from many of our members that are concerned about this decision and asked what they could do.

We would like our members to send emails with your comments to the following people in the Department of Agriculture –

Jim Hubbard – jim.hubbard@osec.usda.gov
Campbell Shuford – campbell.shuford@osec.usda.gov

We would also like you to send your comments to your congressional delegation.

You can also leave a message for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, by clicking on this link – https://www.usda.gov/tellsonny

Here are some potential talking points:

* The importance of this program to many of the rural communities we serve.
* The long standing success of the Forest Service in not only carrying out the intent of the Job Corps program from its inception in 1964 but the importance of the “conservation centers” and the special locations and ability to connect with outdoors and involve students in conservation work including silviculture and fire management activities.
*Not recognizing the fact that this program and the Forest Service involvement is in fact a “classic” example of the vision espoused in the objective of “shared stewardship” and the Forest Service has been a leader in in this.
*The confidence that the Department of Interior placed in the Department of Agriculture in the recent past when eight of their Centers were transferred to the USDA Forest Service.
*The impact of the closing on 1,100 USDA employees who will lose their jobs or be displaced.
*The fact that many of our members have spent a good part of their careers working to make the Job Corps Conservation Centers successful through their leadership and expertise
*And lastly the manner in which this decision was made and the lack of transparency and inclusion of those impacted by the decision.

Here is a link to the NAFSR letter to Perdue.

Here is a piece by Bill Gabbert on the fire angle.

Here’s an article from Politico.

I’m also curious as to what about the FS you would improve if you were the Secretary, and interested in efficiency. I don’t think he has asked us yet 😉 but still… Mine would be to review R&D projects between NSF, EPA, Interior and Agriculture (all in-house and grants) for duplication and set in motion processes to avoid duplication in the future. Yours?

17 thoughts on “Short-Sighted, Ineffective and Stupid: Michael Rains on Potential Job Corps Transfer”

  1. I think it is yet another step towards outsourcing Forest Service jobs. It’s easier to inspect work than to actually do the work and manage the workforce. The Forest Service is still quite top-heavy and there is a lack of expertise in the lower levels. No one wants to take on this issue because there is no solution that will inspire Congress to act.

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  2. This YCC alum wants to know if anyone has experience supervising USFS Jobs Corps projects. Reason I ask: My impression is that some USFS people would rather use private contractors vs Jobs Corps.

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    • Yes this is absolutely the case. I have direct experience with ordering signs from JC. They arrived with incorrect fonts and layouts and we were told that’s just JC and because it’s a youth program that wasn’t a big deal. Only 1 project but I would not recommend their services to colleagues. It is also pretty widely known that the program was a place the FS would stick poor performers who had made mistakes in NF management. I don’t get the angst over tradition, and think it is about time someone tackled the outsized and misguided influence of retirees. These folks should be respected and listened to no more or less than any other public, IMO.

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  3. There is little doubt that North America’s renewable resources agencies need too be modernised to deal with contemporary problems and issues. Yet, erasing the Job Corps appears to be another move against the rural poor and the rural youth.

    In a the democracy that America purports to be, the proper function of government is in the maintenance and enhancement of the health, education and welfare of it population. The future of that population lays in the hearts and minds of the hundreds of youth impacted by the decision is being compromised, threatening the very ideas embedded in the conservation movement of the United States.

    It requires programs such the Job Corps to sustain both its public lands but health, education and welfare of its rural youth. A country that constantly preys on those least able to defend and protect themselves cannot be called democratic.

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  4. What documentation exists that indicates Job Corps workers are predominantly poor or from rural areas?

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    • It’s a requirement.. here’s the info from a GAO report in 2017.

      To be eligible for the Job Corps program, an individual must generally be 16 to 24 years old at the time of enrollment;9 be low income;10 and have an additional barrier to education and employment, such as being homeless, a high school dropout, or in foster care. See table 1 for characteristics of students served by Job Corps during program year
      2016.

      10The criteria for being considered low income include receiving certain public assistance or having a total family income that does not exceed the higher of the poverty line or 70 percent of the lower living standard income level. The Department of Health and Human Services publishes annual poverty guidelines and DOL publishes annual lower living standard income levels.

      Once enrolled in the program, youth are assigned to a specific Job Corps center, usually one located nearest their home and which offers a job training program of interest. The vast majority of students live at Job Corps centers in a residential setting, while the remaining students commute daily from their homes to their respective centers. This residential structure is unique among federal youth programs and enables Job Corps to provide a comprehensive array of services, including housing, meals, clothing, academic instruction, and job training. In program year 2016, about 16,000 students received a high school equivalency and about 28,000 students completed a career technical training program, according to ETA officials.

      Here’s a link to the GAO report.

      It looks like there is a contractor for the DOL Job Corps sites who seems to also run prisons if you believe Wikipedia (the Management and Training Corporation).So possibly USDA has been influenced by this corporation, or the logic of “they specialize in this” or the ideology of “the private sector does things better and cheaper.”

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      • Thanks Sharon. I admit to being a bit surprised. I’ve worked with OHV clubs on several projects where both JC workers and employees of contractors were present (working nearby on different projects). I talked with many of the JC “kids” and they all seemed upper middle class and most were from urban areas.

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  5. What, in the name of efficiency, would I improve about the Forest Service. I would insert at least a modicum of REAL adaptive management – with management done in an experimental way and the specified results, with their cause-effect relationship to the project determined. At least a little bit, we would “learn as we go”. As it is used today, “adaptive management” is not much more than a buzzword. Jim Bailey

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    • Agreed. There has been a lot of talk about adaptive management in the Forest Service, but very little of it accomplished. And, sadly, the Adaptive Management Areas of the Northwest Forest Plan never met their potential either.

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    • You know, I remember Jack Ward Thomas working on improving monitoring, which is not exactly the same thing. Students and professors.. this would sure be an interesting topic to track through time and find out why this issue is to recalcitrant to solutions.

      I do remember our attempt to structure adaptive management via environmental management systems, which seemed universally unpopular.

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      • “Manage and Monitor” doesn’t support adaptive management. (Most often I have seen no monitoring actually done, but that’s another issue.) Manage and Monitor = Apply treatment and monitor X on the treatment area. However, all sorts of on-site and off-site processes may have influenced X. We need some semblance of randomization, replication and control (areas or time periods, with areas preferred). Jim Bailey

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  6. Interesting suggestion from Sharon to review the R&D projects – what type of duplication have you seen? I haven’t seen much of that in the part of the US where I work – there seems to be a lot of collaboration between FS, EPA, Interior and Agriculture and not a large amount of duplication (if any).

    One of the largest time-wasters and morale-killers these days is “meetings management”. It has generated a new set of bureaucracy and lots of new procedures and takes up a lot of time for highly-paid folks in the agency. Decisions are made on who can and cannot attend only a week in advance (or less) sometimes for major meetings like the Society of American Foresters National Convention. This means that late registration fees and last-minute travel costs occur, and that some folks who are shown on the printed agenda as giving a presentation are not allowed to attend. Many employees are unable to attend training that they need to do their jobs because the training is classified as a “conference”. I am certain that this “process predicament” costs far more money than it saves – a classic case of government waste and inefficiency. And the Forest Service seems to implement it in the most complex way possible. While there’s nothing wrong with oversight and making good decisions about expenses related to training and meetings, this process has gone far beyond that.

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  7. The reinvention of Michael Rains as some kind of visionary/giant makes Nixon’s return as a valued elder statesman pale by comparison. Did any of you people ever work for him? Empty suit.

    “Gotta go to Oxaca, gotta go to Oxaca to see the miracle of community forestry and natural resource management in-tune with nature” he once exclaimed on the NRS conference call. Turned out they took him to a Hollywood studio lot in the jungle except he was too blind to see. Sometime afterwards, the whole thing was pinged by USAID and NGOs as a fraud.

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  8. Sharon: “For some reason (“efficiency?”), the Department of Agriculture apparently wants to close some and move the rest to the Department of Labor.”

    Press release: “The U.S. Department of Labor reviewed the CCCs performance and outcome measurements, internal controls, capacity and proximity, costs, and ongoing needs of each CCC against the overall Job Corps program to determine the best path forward. Accordingly, the majority of CCC operations will be replaced by new contract operators or a partnership overseen by Department of Labor.”
    https://www.dol.gov/newsroom/releases/eta/eta20190524
    “We’ve seen this time and time again. The administration wants to fire unionized federal employees and contract out their jobs to for-profit companies,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr.
    https://nhlabornews.com/2019/06/federal-employee-union-slams-usdas-plan-to-shutter-job-corps-program/

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    • Jon, I think I said something similar when I said in the comment above:
      “It looks like there is a contractor for the DOL Job Corps sites who seems to also run prisons, if you believe Wikipedia (the Management and Training Corporation).So possibly USDA has been influenced by this corporation, or the logic of “they specialize in this” or the ideology of “the private sector does things better and cheaper.”.”

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  9. Perdue seems to be spending much of his time trying to fix things that aren’t broken. It appears that a lot of folks at USDA don’t have enough real work to do.

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