Following up on Al Sample’s previous post, the conversation led more generally about the idea that Forest Service line officers tend to seek more discretion via not wanting to be tied down by specifics in plans. Or perhaps the concept is really “managerial flexibility.” It’s hard for me to hold in my mind three things at once.. “the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate” “we must use the latest science” and “what we think today should be requirements in forest plans that last 30 years or go through a tedious amendment process. ”
I think everyone in an organization seeks more discretion, in general. But maybe not? I certainly wouldn’t have turned it down. I guess the question is whether people can be trusted with discretion, and how are they held accountable (for what? and by whom?)
I was intrigued by Chelsea’s statement in this comment.
“My research on the Forest Service has indicated that line officers feel they have less discretion/autonomy than they used to.”
I’d like to hear from Chelsea but also from current employees and retirees.
First let’s establish a timeframe- less that when, for example, than 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago? Some of us remember 50 years or so ago, but are becoming fewer. So we perhaps all remember different pasts.
And less discretion about what?
Budgets, hiring people, making decisions about the landscape? A person could argue that communications and the need for alignment has driven some of this (a natural force). On the other hand, centralization of business operations removed a large part of discretion (an unnatural force). A Regional Forester shouldn’t have to beg an unknown person at ASC to get employees (in one notable case, a Forest Supervisor, paid).
I must point out that many, many folks (including me) who were not line officers but also hire people and try to get them paid were equally frustrated. Having never been a line officer, but observing them, it appeared to me that their decision space is constrained by law, regulation and policy, plus concerns of unnecessarily ticking off people, be that their own staff, RO staffs, and their own supervisors. Good line officers have sensitivities to this, and check with higher levels prior to controversial decisions to make sure that their supervisors have their backs. But my experience may not be typical; by the time a project reached WO- NEPA or even the R-2 planning shop, a project had “escaped containment.” I’m interested in others’ experiences.
So I would like to hear from folks in more detail about this. I’d also like to know, for folks who have worked on the BLM as well as the Forest Service side, how the two agencies compare in terms of line officer discretion.