When I was a post-doc at North Carolina State University I worked for a Pioneering Research Scientist (the top level of scientists in the Forest Service), Dr. Gene Namkoong. He used to say something I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like “when the Forest Service does something bad, don’t assume malevolence or bad faith when they could have simply been disorganized, made a mistake, or so on.” I can’t remember his exact words, but it gave me the impression of good people bumbling along in a complicated system. Gene died a few years ago, or I would ask him.
Assuming the best about people (I suppose it could be argued that the FS is an institution and not people, but does that matter in this context?) is a long held spiritual value, at least in some traditions. Another value is humility. Still another value is being “impeccable with your word” as in the Four Agreements. Political races, in fact, partisan politics itself, encourage the opposite. Thankfully we are out of this for now, and President-elect Biden has spoken a great deal about unity- specifically, that people who think and vote differently are not our enemies. Hopefully The Smokey Wire’s work, seeing through the recurrent partisan spin, hearing the voices of people who think differently, and trying our best to understand each other, will help with the new administration’s efforts.
Remember when the 60-day royalty rate reduction for oil and gas folks was being covered? That was the end of the story for many. In Colorado, though, we do have folks who investigate further, thanks to Colorado Politics and their story here.There was a GAO review of the process.
When developing its temporary royalty relief policy, BLM did not follow guidance for developing new policy contained in its directives manual, including considering a policy’s savings and costs. BLM’s directives manual provides guidance for developing policies that are short-term in nature and are meant to be provided to BLM employees quickly. Among other things, the directives manual says BLM should consider the effects of any temporary policy, including budget impact, costs, and savings, when developing temporary policies such as the temporary royalty relief policy.BLM officials told us that they did not use the directives manual to develop the agency’s temporary policy for royalty relief because of the limited time that the agency had to develop the policy during the early months of the agency’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, BLM’s directives manual states that emergency notifications—in this case, the temporary royalty relief policy—should not be used to circumvent the BLM directives system. By evaluating its temporary royalty relief policy, including the extent to which the policy met BLM’s objectives—preventing unrecoverable loss of oil and gas resources and ensuring a fair return to the government—and the likely costs, such as forgone revenues—BLM could better inform its decisions about granting royalty relief in the future under the agency’s regulation authorizing ongoing royalty relief.Reading the GAO report, I had a great deal of sympathy for the BLM folks faced with implementing these old and unclear regulations, and was not surprised that they were not consistent from state to state. Let’s give our agency folks a break as they deal with Covid and related crises. It’s much more difficult to do things than it is to criticize others who are doing things. Think of writing a book versus a book review. I’m not saying that agency employees are always perfect, but would it hurt to give them the benefit of the doubt?