By Mike Ferguson and Rich Whitley
Much has been written lately about the multitude of unsuccessful reorganizations the BLM has been through in the last 30 or so years. We, too, were involved in entirely too many reorganization efforts that resulted primarily in a huge expenditure of staff time with little, if any, effect on management on the ground.
However, we would like to focus on an initiative that was not a reorganization, but resulted (at least for a few years) in improved interagency cooperation and improved customer service at the local level. The initiative was known as The Southwest Strategy (SWS). It was established in late 1997 and involved Arizona and New Mexico. The SWS emerged from the need for Federal agencies to work in greater collaboration and cooperation to restore and maintain the cultural, economic and environmental quality of Arizona and New Mexico. A Memorandum of Understanding establishing the SWS was signed by 22 executives from 13 separate Federal agencies. Known as the Regional Executive Committee, these executives were all from Arizona and New Mexico – the ones responsible for the on the ground management.
A small interagency staff was created to support the Executive Committee. The team coordinated day to day activities that included oversight of working groups, facilitation of Executive Committee and working group meetings, record keeping, process design and implementation, report writing. Interagency working groups were developed to work on specific operational projects as identified by the Executive Committee. The members of these groups continued their daily work responsibilities and when the regional project was complete the team was disbanded.
One of the more significant accomplishments of the SWS was a Section 7 Consultation process that considered the missions and priorities of each agency and proposed some strategies for streamlining the process. This effort alone reduced permit processing times across BLM, FS, BOR, DOD, and NPS. Other working groups were formed as needed. Each team was chartered with these elements;
- Team will strive to improve interagency cooperation
- Team will serve as the regional focal point for sharing information relevant to their subject matter
- Team will identify issues and develop actions to resolve them
- Team may advise the SWS Regional Executives on relevant issues as necessary.
The SWS did not involve any inter agency or intra agency organizational changes. Nor did it involve any relocation of personnel. So why was the SWS able to accomplish more than most (or all) of the more formal reorganizations?
First of all, the focus was on what needed to happen to deal with the local on the ground issues. The focus was not imposing a particular organizational model that worked in a place where the issues were completely different. This was more of a grass roots effort as opposed to a top down directive.
Probably the biggest success factor was that the Regional Executives were all committed to making things work on the ground. And they were allowed to be the Field Generals making the decisions close the ground.
Perhaps the Department of the Interior would be better off focusing on promoting the appropriate communication channels and letting the field generals do their job, rather than imposing a military model and calling all the shots from Washington DC.