On the Question of Whom to “Hold Accountable” For What in Bureaucracies; And the Symbolic Importance of Moving People

Eric Anderson raised the question of “holding people accountable” within Federal agencies.  I thought that this might be a time for the elders on this site to chime in with their own experiences of that happening, and how that has or has not changed over time. Rather than wait until the FS does something and say “they’re doing it wrong”, let’s explore the different ways it could be done “right.” We’ll also talk about demoting and moving people as symbol rather than corrective.

I have a journalist friend who complained that, in an incident 10-15 years ago, that person X, the ranger for a prescribed fire that went out of control,  was “promoted” to the Regional Office.  I explained to her that in the culture of the Forest Service that was effectively a downgrade as being a District Ranger is being a line officer, and that means you get to make decisions.  Being in the Regional Office as staff means you are one of many possibly giving advice that can easily be ignored.  It was hard for me to explain (because I’m of the “same pay, less responsibility, what’s not to like? school), but it is highly valued within the culture. For those with those values, it was in fact a demotion.  Money isn’t everything, power is something too.  Anyway, if anyone would like to try to explain what being a line officer means from the cultural perspective, you are invited to write a post; I have never been able to explain that point of view adequately, and yet I have seen others write and talk about it quite eloquently.

At one time, I was asked to be the  interim manager in a complex management issue at one unit due on the surface to accusations of discrimination, but actually a giant-sized personality conflict among giant-sized personalities.  The Chief met with us and told us that sometimes for whatever reason, there was a need to move the leader for more or less symbolic reasons, whether or not that individual actually did anything wrong, and that it had happened to him. For the good of the Outfit as a whole, it was needed.

It seems to me that:

1. The FS (and certainly the scientific community) are asking folks to do prescribed fire.  Some think PB (and the thing formerly known as WFU) should do the major work of restoration/fuels reduction.

2. Yet PB can be dangerous and some also think windows will become narrower due to climate change.  Plus weather itself can be unpredictable over the timeframes involved.

3. Perhaps we (those who want PB as an important tool) are, to some extent, placing practitioners between the proverbial rock and the hard place (darned if you do, darned if you don’t), or asking the impossible.

What is the “right” amount of accountability? Do we assume that the processes that the fire folks have in place for lessons learned and continuous improvement will work? Does there need to be symbolic  movements of people? Does that reassure the public, and at the same time make all leaders more cautious? Who decides if there is “too much” caution?

And what of all this will most build trust among communities that the FS has learned from these tragedies, and has the right processes in place to ensure that they won’t happen again, or at least not for the same reasons?

I’m hoping that more knowledgeable and experienced people can weigh in on these questions.

3 thoughts on “On the Question of Whom to “Hold Accountable” For What in Bureaucracies; And the Symbolic Importance of Moving People”

  1. I am a victim of the Caldor Fire. I am educated, and graduated with honors, not to say that gives me any credibility based upon all the so-called geniuses screwing up our country on both sides of the political spectrum, and the lesser of two evils, is still evil. I don’t support evil at any cost.

    So, as a witness and victim, facts exist. In law, these are called “indisputable facts.” This means there is no controversy, and there is a prima facie case, which means what they did is not disputable.

    first of all, you have to understand something about USA that nobody got the memo for in 1795. I’m not going to get into the history and evolution of what occurred in 1795, however, I’m speaking of a constitutional right invented by US Congress when they were facing the consequences of violating human rights, even after the revolution. This constitutional right is often explained as the “over-deterrence theory,” by the few smug officials that know how to facilitate this delusional narrative that falsely claims, “the king could not be sued,” where by precedence was created, but contradicts the basis, also called a “rational theory basis,” to support existing law, otherwise it will be overturned upon appeal by SCOTUS, if they were not so corrupt.

    What I am referring to is “sovereign immunity” under the 11th. amendment that virtually legalized corruption and negligence, albeit, in rare occasions of removing the constitutional right from officials that get caught violating human rights codified in the bill of rights [first 10 amendments]. The “consent doctrine,” allows any ad hoc jurisdiction to suspend the 11th amendment right to be negligent or corrupt to avoid “suits” or “prosecutions” that normal people have to endure in their jobs. This is wholly arbitrary to suspend rights, and is ad hoc based upon video type or prima facie evidence that gets the presses attention where riots occur. The 99% other similar violations that elude scrutiny are quickly dismissed on the side of the State “repeating the injury to victims in mock hearings or trials” (slightly paraphrasing the declaration of independence).

    In the foregoing light of legalized corruption, over-reaching, a less noticeable violation of rights has no support from democracy and is wholly sprinkled with tyranny that is cultivating corrupt or ignorant and negligent officials because there is little deterrence for the USFS to obey law or common humanity.

    In the Caldor fire, the result was great wealth for local jurisdictions and private oligarch type contractors that are favored by local officials, probably due to kickbacks and favors, a violation of 18 USC 1346 Honest Services Fraud, and we can prove this indisputably. But who’s listening, and the courts are so corrupt they dismiss cases like this based upon false mock claims of “frivolous” or “not clearly established law,” or “does not shock the conscience of SCOTUS,” and the rare occasion to actually tell the truth about “absolute sovereign immunity,” that the King of England did not possess, see Blackstone Commentary, and Justice James Wilson Chisholm v. Georgia, US 1793.

    So, the FEMA cleanup came through and literally like armed robbery stole 189 $1000 to $4000 dollars each of my business inventory. I mill logs into lumber. Why would they do this? There is a 5th amendment that states, “nor shall they take for public use, property without “just compensation.”

    In fact, I met with them before I signed a Right of Entry, subject to real estate foreclosure proceedings if I didn’t sign. They defined the tree, my business inventory on 31 acres, as visible “so structurally damaged they pose an immediate threat of falling and injuring people who had public access on easements. I only had 1 tree that met that criteria, and gladly signed the ROE.

    However, they lied, and took 189 trees valued after I mill them at $200,000 to $400,000, and there was nothing I could do! They were out right pirates! Wildfire timbers are only burned about 1/8 to 1/4″ into the bark, which is 1/2 to 2” thick. I have many trees coming back to life after the pine needles were totally brown from the heat. They even took some live trees that were green top to bottom and I have drone footage of this theft and violation of my rights.

    White man still speak with forked tongues, but now all races are engaging in human right violations against wildfire victims.

    Follow the money right? See Forbes Magazine, and you’ll see why, and then think about organized crime as if it still might be around. The biggest RICO violations are by FEMA and it’s private contractors. I proclaim that they, with the USFS have incentivised wildfire arson through economic windfalls un precedented in timber harvesting history, see https://www.forbes.com/feature/archie-emmerson-timber-forest-fires-logging/#66b6611b64f9

    Wildfire Timber creates an acceleration of billionaires cash in the timber industry, and they are bragging about it. Compare this to the 100 SERIAL ARSONIST FIREFIGHTERS arrested annually that each 100 commit multiple arons, and they are our “finest,” and yet the temptation of those who support corrupt government will provide a narrative that people like me are anti-gubment [sic], when really the supportors that would name this the talking point of “misinformation” or a “false narrative,” terms that identify surreptitious lobby defense to marginalize people like me, victims of a wildfire griping that if the loss we incurred wasn’t enough, USFS and FEMA cutting our throats for the final coup d grace death blow.

    As an American born and raised in a foreign country, and a US Navy veteran, I’m appalled at the still greedy USA guilty of slavery, rounding up Native Americans from their lands, death marching them, and now the biggest timber theft from private and public lands: the government still has not learned, and it has invited all races to pillage (does that make it right?).

    • Thanks for the link to the Sierra Pacific article. Illuminating, for sure.
      As to the rest, I’m kinda lost.
      I’ll defer further comment to those with greater experience than I re agency accountability.
      I take your demotion point though, Sharon.

  2. The issue of “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” is one that should be discussed more. An overwhelming majority* of forest scientists and ecologists agree that the use of Rx fire must be increased to mitigate the threat of wildfire. How many mega fires have been prevented, including homes and lives saved, as the result of Rx burning? Because there’s no way to prove how much harm has been off-set (except via complicated modeling), what we are left with are the effects of Rx fires gone awry, with grizzly photos and easy to digest numbers (e.g., homes lost, people killed, acres burned). With these photos and statistics come the calls for heads to roll.

    As has been said over and over again, but apparently it needs to be stated at the beginning of every discussion about the subject, THERE ISN’T A NO FIRE OPTION!!! When fire is used for resource benefits, the managers are choosing, to the best of their expert knowledge, ideal fire weather conditions to burn as safely as possible to prevent future harm. Humans have little tolerance for risky mitigation measures, even when the mitigation is overwhelmingly less risky than the alternative. Take self-driving vehicles for example, even if we could stop 50% of motor vehicle fatalities by converting to self-driving cars, that wouldn’t be good enough for many people and the people/companies that produce the cars/software would be held liable for any fatalities and calls for their heads to roll would be deafening after a crash involving a toddler or pregnant person.

    No one should be held accountable and lose their job if they followed set agency procedures and a Rx fire escapes due to conditions that are out of the control of the line officer. Rx fire is less risky than wildfire. We should not punish managers for attempting to make a choice that prevents mortalities, home lost, and acres burned. What about all the Ranger Districts where Rx fire has not been used and the forest condition is set up for a mega-fire that is likely to wipe out a community under 90th percentile weather conditions. The no management choice is also extremely risky, but no one is being punished or losing their job for it.

    The disease is worse than the cure. Let’s not tar and feather the doctor because the cure isn’t easy and painless. Taking the cure off the table or making it so difficult to implement that it is rarely administered is not going to be helpful in the long-run and we’ll end up with a lot more photos of houses lost, forests decimated, and fire managers killed, we just wont have anyone to blame.

    *I am pretty annoyed with the idea that one should hedge statements about the number of scientist that support an increase in the use of Rx fire with “some”. I am struggling to name any credible forest fire scientists that would disagree (maybe there’s a “few”, but I don’t know of any). From my experience in the field, it’s an “overwhelming majority”, not just “some” or even “most”. Hedging with “some” sounds like there’s a significant debate within the fire and forest ecology science world, which there is not. Not “all” “scientists” believe in human caused climate change or even evolution, but there isn’t a raging debate on the subject in these science communities and suggesting that “some” scientist believe in human caused climate change or evolution is not helpful to the layperson.


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