By Tom Roberts
Just a few thoughts, and first some background.
I went to Washington Office (WO) Resource Division (WO -220) with seventeen years field experience in Utah (Salt Lake) in rangeland management- grazing admin, monitoring studies, fire rehabilitation and invasive species management.
As a result and by choice, I was for a number of years the point of contact and program manager for fire rehabilitation (1994-2001) which included some record setting years. The experience I brought to the Washington Office gave me credibility when giving briefings to the Nevada county commissioners in 1999, Hill staffers, National Public Radio, Director Pat Shea, or others that had questions relative to fires and fire rehabilitation or weed issues of the day. Obviously those questions could have been answered by someone on a phone in Salt Lake or Denver, but there is nothing like a person across town that can walk on over and give a briefing in person to a staffer or the Assistant Secretary of Interior (I did) about the high costs of rehabilitation (1999), or brief the Assistant Director about how the season and costs were going (I did).
Knowledgeable, field experienced people lend credibility to the agency as a whole. I also gave a number of papers at SRM meetings- and my presence and visibility in the Washington Office did the same there. This was not nearly the case with detached Washington Office employees (as were a few of the WO Resource Division (WO- 230 personnel at the time), This will be the same situation if the WO were relocated out West.
A reorganization is terribly disruptive. The Denver Service Center has suffered through a number of them, but so did the WO in 1994 and 1995, Vice President Gore’s initiatives. The saying then was something like ” Ready Fire, Aim” suggesting that it was done for political rational rather than need. I was sent to the Rehabilitation/Restoration Team working for Bernie Hyde, who was very good, by the way. I was the only one with much field experience and they were very supportive, but the team was founded with personnel whose background had little in common, indeed their legal construct were all different- Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), Resource Recovery Act ( RCRA, I believe), Clean Water Act, and probably others. My background had been in laws like Taylor Grazing Act, PRIA, and FLPMA and the fire program. The team was educational but not very productive.
Another example of the counter productivity the Gore Reorganization initiative was George Ramey’s placement in the Permitting team. George knew the grazing regulations (under the TGA, FLPMA, and PRIA) like few other people in the Bureau at the time. The permitting office contained personnel familiar with hard rock mining regs, ROW regs, etc, with little commonality. Indeed the front office (staff assistants) were also befuddled. Imagine forwarding to them a request from a local business owner in Washington DC for a permit to open a hot dog stand!
Jim Fox (our very good) Division Chief prior to the re-org said the good people get work done despite a poor organization, and he was right, but it is less effective and can be demoralizing.
Things did recover when the WO went back to the Group Manager concept, probably the title group manager to avoid the use of Division Chief which would have been an admittance that the idea was a botched concept.
Furthermore– the idea of a large transfer of duties and responsibilities from Washington to SLC or Denver would incur a huge cost and/or retirement of personnel. Not to be cynical, but the decrease in personnel maybe a quiet but real rationale for the idea. A much cheaper and better idea to improve the relationships and appearances of Washington and field/state offices would be an increase in meetings like WO-220 had in 2000 or 2001 where we had, I believe, rangeland managers, area managers and others present for a coordination and communications meeting. Presentations were given (I gave two), questions were answered, and relationships were made, maintained or improved.. Another idea would be to increase the use of details to the WO or even in exchange to the field – thus saving money (compared to reorganization) and improving the perceived flaws in the existing model. I know that during those years the Forest Service seemed to be a believer in that idea, conducting meetings in the various Regional Offices with their Range Staff. Another advantage that the existing model has/had was our great relationship with the range staffs of the Forest Service and NRCS, which would obviously be diminished or lost if there was a large transfer west.
Finally- I sincerely hope that this idea is thoroughly studied, especially in times when budgets are under assault from one side or the other.