Historical Artifact: RO/State Office Review of San Juan Public Lands Center Service First

Many very excellent folks worked hard for years on developing this joint plan (which did not survive as joint, as far as I know).

Somewhere there should be  a history of efforts to bring various parts of BLM and the Forest Service together.  Maybe there is and I haven’t seen it.  When I joined the FS the Reagan Administration was exploring the idea of exchange of land called Interchange, as I recall.

A few of us were discussing the more recent Service First approach  in a previous thread.. I think that there may have been important lessons to be learned from those experiments.  I have asked the folks I remember, and their contacts to write posts for The Smokey Wire (note, that offer still holds), to tell their story, but no one has taken me up on it.

So I thought I’d post what our findings were on the Forest Service side of the SJPLC (San Juan Public Lands Center, the joint unit) joint BLM/FS Review by the RO/State Office.  Suffice it to say that there were strongly different cultural norms for each agency in terms of reviews. Our FS review got hung up because the Forest and the RO couldn’t agree on the findings and recommendations. That’s another story.  Nevertheless, below is the Forest Service draft document section on Service First.  As I may have written before, to many of us politically imparied individuals, it was a bit of a mystery as to why the experiments in Colorado were suddenly shut down. Perhaps someone out there knows. Anyway, I think you can hear some of the employees’ pros and cons from this writeup.


  1. Service First

Service First is great for customer service, one-stop shopping, and landscape or resource management. However, differences in administration, IT, budget and processes are ongoing barriers to meeting the objectives and intent of Service First. Service First efforts create better products in the end, but in some cases, the process takes much longer to finish.

Many employees question higher level commitment to support Service First. WO/RO/SO levels do not appear to “walk the talk” when it comes to supporting Service First. Initial promises to streamline efforts and remove barriers have not materialized.  Consequently, Service First continues to be difficult. There is little recognition of the increased workload associated with Service First. Following two sets of rules takes more time and money. We heard some instances in which employees follow whatever agency’s rules are most restrictive for joint projects. On the other hand, sometimes both agencies can use the less restrictive practice, such as for hiring.

Service First efforts invariably require more communication between RO/SO and the unit so that all three offices hear the same issues and participate in the solution.

The frustration level is high. Employees are frustrated by the heavy workload and many are working extra hours. Service First may exacerbate workload and burden shift in the sense that dealing with “one ASC is difficult, two would be impossible.” The BLM is considering a similar reorganization of administrative support. It appears as if the LT doesn’t fully understand the level of frustration that some employees are feeling, at least from the employees’ perspective.

There is a perception that there are no consequences for employees that do not support Service First and actively attempt to sabotage or work against Service First goals.


*  SJPLC needs to do a review to examine whether or not Service First (versus individual performance or other issues) is impacting getting work done.

* SJPLC should identify, in a memo to the Regional Forester and State Director, those aspects of administrative procedures that are a barrier to Service First, and that are beyond the unit’s ability to address.

* RO/SO needs to clearly articulate the goals and objectives of Service First. What are the expectations? The RO/SO offices need to consider the impacts of State and Regional policy on Service First units.

* Either devise a way to compensate for a combined unit or allow for inconsistencies.

* Jointly explore opportunities to institutionalize the concept of one interagency budget, one set of interagency targets and one set of budgeting policies and procedures for this (and other Service First units). Pursue with more fervor and persistence than after the identical findings on the Rio Grande review.

* Examine ways to foster better communication between RO/SO/unit.

* Identify representatives from each office and develop a joint communication plan.

* Pursue getting WO employees (BLM Imagination Team) at Dolores to contribute toward operating expenses. Identify other detached employees to determine if they contribute to operating expenses.

* Pursue reciprocity agreements for training (e.g., security). (Copy R-6 and Oregon/Washington BLM.)

* The State Director and the Regional Forester need to agree on their expectations as to how Service First should work.

*  PLC leadership team should use Service First language in employee performance reviews to help hold employees accountable if this isn’t already being done.


8 thoughts on “Historical Artifact: RO/State Office Review of San Juan Public Lands Center Service First”

  1. Here is some more info on why the “Interchange” did not make it in OR, WA, & CA in the 80’s. The FS & BLM reimbursed counties (FS 50%, BLM 25%) for timber sale receipts at different rates in replacement for not collecting property taxes on O&C (Oregon & California Railroad “checkerboard”) lands. Counties did not like this because it negatively impacted their income if there was to be a swap, they used political pressure to scuttle the process.

    • Thanks, Tom, what I recall from the cheap seats in Lakeview was the grazing permittees didn’t like to switch from the FS with the thinking “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” I’m hoping that someone can write this history while there’s still people who remember. I just think it’s interesting because on the face of it it made a lot of sense, but didn’t fit with political realities. Even though people in politics must have dreamed it up. I remember the permittees in Lakeview attending the Reagan inaugural. So I wonder what went wrong with the sensing of the people who developed the concept and if there are lessons to be learned from that.

      • Sharon, since you brought up Lakeview, and “service first”, I can’t help but bring up an experience that changed my career. Service First has been pretty much a regional thing, certainly not mandated from from the WO. After 20 years in R6, no sign of service first in 96 as I transitioned to R3, none there either. When I returned to R6 RO in 2005, one of the first things I heard from my friend Linda Goodman, My new assignment was CIO Rep to the Region, was “Tom, “We” have a lot of work to do to put our systems together with the BLM”. Of course this was not in really in CIO’s program of work, barely even talked about, as we had our hands full just trying to get FS folks using our new new equipment and systems.
        Wasn’t long before the Forest Sup from Fremont-Winema showed up at a Leadership Team meeting and pretty much demanded that we put our Field Radio Systems together so fire folks didn’t have to carry 2 Hand helds. She(can’t remember her name) wasn’t happy when I told her this wasn’t going to be something easy. All sorts of inter govt regs had to be dealt with, and it would take time. I had no choice but to call in the big guns, my bosses from the WO, who didn’t give a fig about Service First, to deal with the situation. By 2007 I had had it with what R6 and ever increasing Service First requests, managed to get transfered back to R3, where to this day Service First doesn’t exist except in fire, and they don’t call it that. I’ve got several other Service First stories but I won’t go into them here.

        • Tom.. of what you said, trying not to have firefighters carry two handhelds doesn’t sound unreasonable. I hope that has been achieved by now.

  2. From the Rio Grande side: My understanding is the Service First experiment went bust due to issues between the RO and SO. It wasn’t all that popular among many in the rank and file at the RGNF/SLVFO (what was called the San Luis Valley Public Lands Center) level either due to increased workloads and mixed messages coming down from the RO/SO. Also, the BLM employees felt they were swallowed up by the Forest. Most of the public on the other hand seemed to think it made sense and liked going to one office to do business with either or both the RGNF/SLVFO.

      • State Office. My understanding was there was a pretty strong conflict between the two, especially the two people who mattered the most in each office. I’ll come out of the closet now… the last 14 years of my career was as the public affairs specialist (my education is in forestry, soil science, biology and secondary education) for the RGNF and the SLVFO (officially USFS employee). I don’t want to get into the weeds here with specifics, but I sometimes found myself in the middle of pleasing two offices that disagreed with each other. It was an uncomfortable position to be in.

        • Hmm. Indeed. I wonder to what extent personalities entered into it? Or not wanting to share authority? Anyway, without attempting to commit psychology on those two individuals, it seems like we’ll never know if it would have worked if the two agencies hadn’t said… “This is Important! We will place two people at the State Office and RO who have experience in both agencies – who already get along well- and give them what they need to get ‘er done. We owe it to the taxpayers, to the public and to our employees.”


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