There are so many interesting things we can discuss about Jim’s observations.. the personal chemistry of liking and trusting, the buddy system, litmus tests for worldviews and “ethics”, figuring out what people are like based on what you hear about them (AKA..gossip?). Holy Smoke! It’s amazing that any of us stayed employed :). Oh, that’s right, it’s hard to fire us…
Sidenote: I checked back on the question of whether the Regional Foresters work for the Deputy Chief for National Forest Systems or for the Chief. From another former Deputy Chief for NFS.
I suppose it is a bit of both of in reality. As I remember it, I actually gave them their performance reviews and felt every bit their supervisor but whenever the Chief wanted he certainly had direct ties to each and in some cases an specific RF would try to go directly to the Chief if they thought that might be to their advantage, especially on cross functional issues regarding S&PF or administration and budget.
(Note that Fire is in S&PF).
Now on to Jim Furnish’s post.
“Next up: Jim Lyons, who came to USDA in 1993 from a lead staff position with the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and remained Undersecretary for Clinton’s full term.
The Bad: I’ll be honest; I did not claim membership in the good ol’ boys club of forest supervisors when I became Deputy Chief in 1999. As timber production plummeted following the spotted owl crisis, Siuslaw NF, as well as I, became somewhat inconsequential in the larger scheme. I turned my attention to fixing roads, and protecting owls, salmon, and marbled murrelets, and struggling to develop a restoration model for a way forward out of the timber morass. Although, we were largely ignored in the PNW, Dombeck and Chris Wood, his policy advisor (and now Pres of Trout Unlimited) liked what they saw.
As Deputy Chief for National Forests, all personnel selections at the level of forest and deputy supervisor, regional director, regional and deputy forester, and DC NF program directors, had to be endorsed by me. Selections came to me as #1, #2, and #3 for my approval; I then had to brief the national leadership team on my assessment and selection rationale, occasionally bypassing the #1 candidate in favor of another. After discussion, the Chief made the final call and an offer was processed through. Except for Senior Exec positions, which went to the Undersecretary, who had veto power. For context, there are about 125 NFs, 9 Regions,and 10 national directors. In my brief 2 ½ year tenure, I processed about 125 selections.
We had a big problem when I arrived in May 1999. A huge backlog existed of unfilled positions, or more accurately, “pending decisions.” I assessed that Dombeck, having spent several years at BLM, was out of touch with FS field leaders. Lyons, similarly, didn’t know many except by reputation, but had strong views about personnel. As he traveled throughout the US, he met many leaders; some he liked, many he was wary of. After Dep Chief Gray Reynolds was ousted by Dombeck and Lyons, Bob Joslin filled the post but retired quickly thereafter. Distrust and indecision filled the gap as Dombeck felt he simply could not trust the process to deliver people with a necessary “land ethic” to carry his agenda. This engendered distrust on the part of regional foresters in particular, whose selections stood idling in DC.
I had been around enough that I knew, or had at least met, virtually every candidate for these select jobs. And I knew who I could trust when vetting a candidate for a particular position. I’m not bragging when I say I was key to breaking the gridlock. Dombeck trusted me enough to (almost always) accept my decisions. Lyons was another matter. He enjoyed his ability to pull strings to get people he knew and liked into positions (and prevent those he didn’t like), and had been infamously active in this arena since early in his tenure as Undersecretary, earning much scorn. This had a negative effect on field morale (putting it mildly). To be fair, both Dombeck and Lyons had legitimate concerns about finding leaders who shared their vision for a more progressive and “green” agenda, less reliant on logging.
Lyons and I did not visit this issue often, but we had a quite blunt talk about him needing to trust me and relinquish his grip on personnel selections. Slowly, the spigot opened and water flowed. I can well remember Lyons looking into my eyes occasionally and asking if so-and-so was “up to the job.” I think he had interfered unreasonably in personnel matters (Lyons would disagree, I’m sure), but he changed. He learned to let go.”
Next post: The Good, about Jim Lyons and the 2001 Planning Rule