On February 12, I asked the Forest Service to make the NFMA rule FACA committee meetings accessible to the on-line public. It didn’t happen for the 2/20 meeting.
With the next meeting scheduled for 5/7, I reiterated the request on 5/1. Once again, no go for the May meeting.
However, despair not policy wonks, the FACA DFO (that’s “designated federal official”) says that the FS isn’t opposed to the idea. He says that by the time of the June meeting, which hasn’t yet been scheduled on the committee’s calendar, the FS hopes to have some kind of real-time electronic access for the public.
In the meantime, if you just can’t get enough after having read the proposed directives, you can see what the committee has been perusing here.
Too many years ago, I served on a timber industry committee charged, among other things, with figuring out whether it was better to advocate the calculation of “allowable sale quantities” in board or cubic feet. Board foot measure estimates how much lumber can be sawn from a log, with allowances for saw blade width (“kerf”), slabs (the left-overs after squaring off a round log), and sawing strategy. Cubic foot measure is the geometry-based volume of a log.
Ceteris paribus, the number of board feet equivalent to one cubic foot is proportional directly to log diameter. For example, a small-diameter log has a bf/cf ratio of about 4, while a large-diameter log’s ratio is about 6.
Today, almost all serious measures of timber are made in cubic feet, except for pulpwood and biomass, which are measured by weight. That’s because cubic foot measure is widely regarded as a more accurate representation of total wood volume, less subject to the vagaries of milling technology and scaling judgment.
Which measure one chooses makes a difference in how one sees the world of wood production and supply. “Everyone” knows that Oregon’s timber harvest has dropped precipitously since the early 1990s. And, so it has, measured in board feet (the blue-line curve).
But a funny thing happens when Oregon’s harvest is measured in cubic feet (the red-line curve). Not nearly so dramatic a decline. The reason is pretty simple. Oregon’s plantation forests grow a whole lot of wood, producing much more growth annually than the old forests the plantations replaced. Cubic foot measure, which is much less sensitive to tree diameter, more accurately captures that volume than does board foot measure.
Some have interpreted the Chief’s 2/20/13 fire letter as loosening last year’s ban on “let burn” fires. A closer look at the fine print suggests that’s not only easier said than done, but might not have even been said.
Here’s the relevant direction: “Line officers desiring to use wildland fire as an essential ecological process and natural change agent must follow the Seven Standards for Managing Incident Risk to the highest level of performance and accountability.”
And, “To be clear, Standards 1, 2, 3 and 4 need to be completed pre-season.“
Standards 1, 2, 3 and 4 are:
1. Complete an Incident Risk Assessment
Develop an assessment of what is at risk (from preseason work or input from key stakeholders for boundary incidents), probabilities of harm, and possible mitigations.
2. Complete a Risk Analysis
Consider alternatives (objectives, strategies and tactics) against desired outcomes, respondent exposure, probability of success, and values to be protected.
3. Complete Two-Way Risk Communications
Engage community leaders, local government officials, partners, and other key stakeholders associated with the incident to share the risk picture and enlist input.
4. Conduct Risk Sharing Dialogue ( using “Red Book”, Chapter 05.11 framework’s 10 questions)
Engage senior line officers and political appointees (as appropriate) in dialogue aimed at understanding, acceptance, and support for the alternatives and likely decision.
So here’s how the process will work in the real world. Fire ignites in some out-of-the-way place where letting it burn makes sense. Line officer says to incident commander, “Let it burn.” Incident commander says, “Where’s your documented evidence that Standards 1 through 4 were completed during the pre-season?” Line officer says “Huh?”
Who wants to help me draft the FOIA letter I’ll send out to each line officer asking if she’s done her Seven Standards homework?
To the general public, talk about “position descriptions” and “job series” makes eyes roll and mouths yawn. Within the Forest Service, however, few topics get blood pressures raised faster than the agency’s hiring and promotion practices.
In a recent internal report, The Forest Service Wilderness Career Ladder:
In Search of the Missing Rungs, a group of wilderness rangers deconstructs the Forest Service’s dysfunctional promotion rules that bar experienced personnel from being “qualified” for advancement.
For any employee who has hit the opaque glass ceiling, it’s a must-read.
To (sort of) understand the sequestration and its effects on the Forest Service, here’s a crash course in the Forest Service’s budget.
FS spending is divided into the following budget accounts (FY2013):
National Forest System ($1.63 billion): This money is used primarily to pay salaries & benefits for the 40,000 folks who do day-to-day national forest management.
Fire ($2.5 billion): About half is spent on having an infrastructure reading to fight fires and the other half on actually fighting the fires, with very large fires accounting for most of these costs. These proportions can vary greatly from one year to another.
Research ($0.3 billion): Studying how things tick.
Capital Improvement ($0.45 billion): Fixing built stuff.
State and Private Forestry ($0.26 billion): Cutting & burning worthless wood.
Permanent Appropriations ($0.65 billion): Payments to states (e.g., Secure Rural Schools) is the big ticket. Also where most of your recreation fee dollars are spent. A potpourri of other spending tidbits is lumped in here, too, e.g., salvage sale money laundering.
Land Acquisition ($0.08 billion): House R’s don’t want to buy any more federal land, so we don’t anymore.
Trust Funds ($0.08 billion): Green groups don’t want to cut any trees, so we don’t anymore, which has pretty much zeroed out K-V and other trust funds.
Take these numbers and subtract 5% and that gives you the FY2013 spending amount if the sequestration dollars stay sequestered to the end of the fiscal year. On a month-to-month basis, however, actual spending will reflect a 10% cut because federal agencies have been spending at the regular, un-sequestered rate since the beginning of the fiscal year (10/1/12). We’re halfway through the fiscal year, so agencies have to double their cuts to stay within the caps.
How the FS distributes the cuts WITHIN these budget accounts is anyone’s guess.
This week the Forest Service’s homepage is profiling a long-time employee chosen because she “has weathered three unplanned agency furloughs.”
I went kicking and screaming several times when I was furloughed but it ended up being the best thing for me both personally and professionally.
Don’t worry, be happy! Brought to you by the U.S. Forest Service Office of Communication (sic).
I wracked my brain to come up with a sexier blog title, but just couldn’t pull it off. Here’s the link. If you find anything amusing, shocking, or just plain weird, please share your nugget.
Albuquerque is great this time of year, but parenting obligations and limited travel budgets will keep me from attending the NFMA rule advisory committee meeting Feb. 22-24.
So I wrote to Tony Tooke, the committee’s designated federal official, asking if the committee’s meeting could be webcast. As some may recall, several of the meetings that led to the NFMA rule’s promulgation were webcast by the Forest Service.
Tony replied that the matter will be discussed. If you’d like to offer your 2 cents to that discussion, Tony’s email is email@example.com.
This 5-minute NASA video reports on studies using LANDSAT data that show little, if any, correlation between bark beetle-damaged forests and wildfire.
We’ve blogged before about employees ranking the Forest Service as one of the worst places in federal government to work. That discussion focused on senior leadership, which ranks 274th out of 290 agencies evaluated.
But, there is one category that ranks even lower. When it comes to “Strategic Management,” Forest Service workers score their agency 286th. Only the benighted Transportation Security Administration, the Cold War relic Voice of America, the 200 obviously disgruntled employees at the Office of Post-secondary Education, and HUD’s apparently clueless Office of Chief Information Officer rank below the Forest Service when it comes to strategic management.
So what does the survey mean by “strategic management?” The survey says it “measures the extent to which employees believe that management ensures they have the necessary skills and abilities to do their jobs, is successful at hiring new employees with the necessary skills to help the organization, and works to achieve the organizational goals with targeted personnel strategies and performance management.” In other words, strategic management is all about Human Resources.
Consider Avue. Avue is a privately-owned subsidiary of Carahsoft Technology Corporation whose gig is leasing computer-based human resource “solutions” to government agencies. In 2005, the Forest Service entered into a contract with Avue to subscribe to its “ADS Modules.” The ADS Modules wrote job announcements and position descriptions. When a Forest Service office wanted to hire a seasonal firefighter, for example, its HR staff would turn to the on-line Avue database to create the job advertisement and when the FS hired the employee, Avue would print out the worker’s duties.
FS employee antipathy towards Avue is exemplified by this comment on a firefighter website.
HALLELUJAH!!!!! The end of AVUE is coming soon!!! Lets do this RIGHT Forest Service! To be honest, if we were required to use a 1972 typewriter and mail the application on one of those Wells Fargo stagecoaches, that would be better than AVUE. Anything would be better than AVUE.
Between 2005 and 2011, the Forest Service paid Avue over $34 million for this service (2.7 MB pdf). Last year, the Forest Service decided not to renew its contract with Avue and return the work of job recruitment and position description writing to government employees.
So, just another example of Bush-era outsourcing that didn’t work so well. But, wait, there’s more.
It turns out that the Forest Service has to re-write position descriptions for its 40,000 employees because the FS doesn’t actually own any of the PDs written during the Avue era. What the Forest Service bought for its $34 million was a subscription license to use Avue output during the contract period only. Avue retains title to the position descriptions themselves and the license agreement bars the Forest Service from using any of the PD content for any purpose, including to crib from while writing its new PDs.
Even more galling is that most of the content of each PD was input originally into the Avue system by Forest Service employees using their pre-Avue PDs. The Forest Service is not allowed use of this original source data either, having forfeited its ownership when it entered the data into the Avue system.