to Manage Forests
Forest Magazine Article: Skeleton Crew to Manage Forests
Who are the U.S. Forest Service employees eligible for outsourcing under the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, known by the acronym FAIR, and what do they do? To help answer that question, I picked at random a typical ranger district, coincidentally located near the official Wyoming residences of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Interior Secretary James Watt. According to the FAIR inventory, nineteen employees work on this district, and all but one fulfills a commercial activity. The only inherently governmental employee is the district ranger, the head of the office.
The other eighteen folks include:
- One natural resource manager who has worked on the district for twenty years (hes the institutional memory of the district) and does a little of everything while also supervising several other staff.
- One vegetation manager who doubles as the district silviculturist (plants and manages trees) and botanist while also serving on a federal incident management team that was at ground zero after 9/11 and involved in the Columbia shuttle recovery.
- One forestry technician with responsibility for supervising the seasonal trail maintenance crews and Forest Service-owned livestock (e.g., pack horses).
- Four fire prevention officers who run the fire suppression engine crew, patrol the district during fire season educating the public regarding fire risks, put out fires and conduct prescribed burns.
- Two forest engineers who design roads, bridges, campgrounds and other structures.
- A fisheries biologist who conserves threatened and endangered fish, ensures that projects protect fish habitat and works with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
- A land surveyor who ensures that the national forest boundaries are properly posted and respected and is involved with land exchanges.
- A rangeland manager who oversees private livestock grazing on the district.
- A minerals manager who oversees the commercial and recreational mining of minerals.
- Two road maintenance employees who do just what their job title says, maintain the districts miles of primarily gravel and dirt roads.
- Two administrative staff who handle the paperwork.
- One information specialist who answers public inquires of all kinds.
These are the people who manage your public lands. According to the FAIR inventory, a private sector company could perform all of these jobs, allegedly at less cost to taxpayers.
Is the private sector ready to take over these functions? Yes, according to a pleasant sales representative at Westaff, one of the largest staffing companies in the country. Westaff and companies of its type are clearinghouses for large corporations and, now, government agencies looking for inexpensive, often temporary, labor.
But federal employees are different from their private sector peers. Sure, the private sector has biologists, foresters and other technically trained staff who could fulfill many of the functions carried out by federal workers. But federal employees are governed by binding and enforceable rules of ethical conductprivate sector consultants are not.
Ethical conduct rules prohibit federal employees from accepting gifts or bribes from those doing business with the government. No such prohibition applies to consultants.
Federal employees are barred from feathering their own nest in the performance of their public duties, such as by making recommendations on decisions from which they or their family members might financially profit. No such prohibition applies to consultants.
Federal employees may not give preferential treatment to anyone. No such prohibition applies to consultants.
Federal employees may not hold outside employment that creates or gives the appearance of creating a conflict of interest between their private interests and their government obligations. No such prohibition applies to consultants.
Federal employees may not accept compensation for representing outside business interests in matters involving federal decisions. No such prohibition applies to consultants.
The proponents of privatizing the public sector may not believe that ethics are important. But no one can seriously assert that business ethics, as practiced by Enron and its ilk, are any substitute for the statutory ethical rules that bind federal workers. Who do we want managing our national forests: workers required to place the public interest first or workers whose first loyalty is to the temp agency that hires or fires them?