Workforce capacity in the U.S. Forest Service

forest service workforce capacity study

The National Association of Forest Service Retirees (NAFSR) conducted an analysis of the capacity of the Forest Service’s workforce. They looked at the existing characteristics of the agency and conducted lengthy interviews with 33 employees in all nine regions.

Topics covered in the interviews:

  • Leadership, culture, and direction,
  • Workforce capacity,
  • Consolidation and zoning,
  • On the ground management, and,
  • Partnerships.

The recommendations of the NAFSR:

  1. Hire employees with skill sets necessary to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.
  2. Totally revamp the hiring process, streamlining procedures, removing all roadblocks and restoring connections with field units.
  3. Eliminate unnecessary administrative burdens.
  4. Increase funding to hire new employees, contract work and enter into partnerships.
  5. Delegate authority to field units.
  6. Implement all actions previously suggested by NAFSR, including administrative reforms and the 2021 budget initiative.

You can download the cover letter (.docx file) the group sent to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, as well as the 11-page report (.pdf file). The documents are intended to be shared with anyone who has an interest.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Forest Service releases recruitment videos

Above:  Screen grab from U.S. Forest Service recruitment video featuring Johnny Walker.

The U.S. Forest Service has released four videos that appear to be designed to entice more people to apply for wildland fire jobs within the agency. Considering the allegations of sexual harassment within the agency during the last two years it is interesting that three of the four people featured in the videos are women.

OIG reports on investigations of sexual harassment in Forest Service

The OIG recommended that only contractor investigators or investigators from other Federal agencies be used for these complaints

The Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General has issued a report on how the Forest Service has handled investigations into complaints of sexual misconduct and harassment within the agency. The document was released about the same time the Chief of the FS resigned while facing allegations of sexual misconduct disclosed on the PBS NewsHour program.

The objective of the report was to evaluate the effectiveness of the investigations. The FS is part of the Department of Agriculture, so this process was basically an internal investigation.

The OIG found through interviews with 69 current and former FS employees in Region 5 (California) that 33 of them expressed some level of mistrust in FS’ process for handling sexual harassment and sexual misconduct complaints.

The OIG recommended that for a year the FS try using only contract investigators or investigators from other Federal agencies. The FS agreed with this recommendation and stated they could implement it by March 30, 2019.

The entire 9MB OIG report is here, and below is a graphic from the document.

Office of inspector general sexual harassment

Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke resigns

(Originally published at 5:36 p.m. MST March 7, 2018)

Tony Tooke, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has resigned. Recently the agency confirmed that the Department of Agriculture has “engaged an independent investigator” to look into complaints against the Chief.

In an email to FS employees sent at 3:16 p.m. MST March 7 Chief Tooke wrote:

…Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency…

To our knowledge the first reports of impropriety by Chief Tooke that were reported by a reputable news organization came on March 2 from the PBS program NewsHour, which received confirmation about the investigation from the FS. It was disclosed during the program’s second installment in their series about sexual harassment in the agency.

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS

We have not seen any allegations of sexual harassment by Chief Tooke — PBS used the term “sexual misconduct”. One of our sources told us that the investigators were looking into what appeared to be a consensual relationship with a subordinate and that the woman involved had not filed a complaint.

Below is the complete text of Chief Tooke’s email sent Wednesday afternoon to Forest Service employees:


Subject: My Commitment to All Forest Service Employees, Our Mission, and the Best Possible Future

Every Forest Service employee deserves a safe and respectful workplace free of harassment. Each employee deserves the very best leadership to bring about the cultural change necessary to rid the Forest Service of harassment, bullying, and retaliation.

Many of you have seen the news reports which included the stories from women who told of their experiences with sexual harassment in the Forest Service. I admire their courage. Their stories are heartbreaking and reveal that we must do much more to achieve a safe, positive, and respectful work environment for all employees. Please know that Forest Service leadership is committed to investing in the changes and resources needed to improve and become much better.

Though we still have much to do, we have taken steps to improve policies, accountability, reporting systems, and training. A Senior Advisor has been designated to focus on work environment and an employee advisory group is being formed to help. However, we must address the drivers in our culture and change the systems that allow harassment, bullying and retribution to occur. Every employee must feel safe, valued, respected and free to speak up without fear of reprisal.

We are in a moment at the Forest Service when we have a tremendous opportunity to mold a bright and successful future in delivering our mission. To seize this moment, however, the right leadership must be in place to create an atmosphere in which employees can perform their very best work. Each employee deserves a leader who can maintain the proper moral authority to steer the Forest Service along this important and challenging course.

In some of these news reports, you may have seen references to my own behavior in the past. This naturally raised questions about my record and prompted an investigation, which I requested and fully support, and with which I have cooperated. I have been forthright during the review, but I cannot combat every inaccuracy that is reported in the news media. What I can control, however, are decisions I make today and the choice of a path for the future that is best for our employees, the Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I must also think about what is best for my family. Therefore, I have decided that what is needed right now is for me to step down as Forest Service Chief and make way for a new leader that can ensure future success for all employees and the agency.

I have loved the Forest Service, our employees, and our conservation and public service mission since joining at age 18. I am so grateful for the teaching and mentoring I’ve received from so many employees from field technicians to those at all levels, people from all walks of life. I have never worked anywhere else in my career and I am so proud to have served with all of you in sustaining the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands for present and future generations. I will always be grateful for the hundreds upon hundreds of employees that I’ve worked with directly as well as the thousands of others, past and present, who have been so dedicated and committed to caring for the land and serving people.

I thank Secretary Perdue for the opportunity to serve you as Chief and for the tremendous support he has shown for the Forest Service and the work we do: I also thank all of you for the support and confidence that you’ve shown in me in this role. I am proud of all of you, including our partners and volunteers, for all that you do every day to serve the American people and care for our natural resources and public lands.

I wish each of you the very best. My retirement will be effective immediately.

Tony

Allegations of sexual misconduct in the Forest Service go all the way to the top

An “independent investigator” is looking into complaints against Chief Tony Tooke

Tony Tooke
Tony Tooke. USFS

When the PBS program NewsHour announced that the second installment of their story on sexual harassment in the U.S. Forest Service would continue Friday night, we didn’t know it would implicate the Chief of the agency Tony Tooke.

Below is an excerpt from the NewsHour article, dated 6:35 p.m. EST March 2, 2018.

The U.S. Forest Service has confirmed that the United States Department of Agriculture, its parent agency, has “engaged an independent investigator” to look into complaints against Chief Tony Tooke.

In the course of reporting its investigation, the PBS NewsHour discovered allegations of sexual misconduct against Tooke, specifically relationships with his subordinates, before he became chief.

And, NewsHour’s 7-minute video:

The first installment of the story Thursday night reported on interviews with dozens of U.S. Forest Service female employees, many of them firefighters. The women gave numerous examples of gender discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault by crew members and supervisors. Three women said they were raped by fellow employees.

On August 21, 2017 Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that he selected Tony Tooke to be the Chief of the Forest Service. At that time the Regional Director of the agency’s Southern Region, Mr. Tooke replaced Tom Tidwell who announced his retirement August 18. Secretary Perdue said about Mr. Tooke:

The Forest Service will be in good hands with the U.S. Forest Service’s own Tony Tooke…As we move into a new season, I look forward to hearing how each member of the USFS family gives Tony your full support…

In a December 1, 2017 message, devoted solely to sexual harassment in the agency, Chief Tooke wrote, in part:

The work to eliminate harassment remains paramount — beyond our progress in mandatory training, reporting, investigations, and taking disciplinary actions. The work ahead, among other steps, must also center on permanently changing our work culture by uplifting and empowering employees. Every employee possesses the right to a safe, respectful workplace where they feel valued, but it takes all of us to protect that right.

NewsHour reported that since September, 2016, the Forest Service has received 1,013 reports of harassment, and completed inquiries or investigations in 632 cases. Of those, the agency said it found misconduct in 150 cases. Since NewsHour published their first report Thursday, more than 45 women and men also came forward with their own stories about the agency after their request to contact them by email at tipline@newshour.org

Chief Tooke is, of course, innocent until proven guilty of the sexual misconduct allegations.

Our opinion:

This is a disgusting, demoralizing, distasteful, detestable scandal facing the agency where I spent 20 years. Looking at the sheer numbers, and knowing that allegations of sexual misconduct go all the way to the top, it is hard to fathom how anyone who has been mistreated can be optimistic that the harassment will stop, or that the perpetrators will be brought to justice.

This HAS to be the Forest Service’s number one priority — clean up this wreckage that is festering within their workforce.

Would you recommend that your sister, daughter, girlfriend, or spouse apply for a job with the U.S. Forest Service?

PBS reports on sexual harassment among firefighters in the U.S. Forest Service

In interviews, 34 women, current and former U.S. Forest Service employees, described a workplace that is hostile to female employees

(Originally published March 2, 2018)

The PBS program Newshour aired a story Thursday night reporting on interviews with dozens of U.S. Forest Service female employees, many of them firefighters. The women gave numerous examples of gender discrimination, bullying, sexual harassment, and assault by crew members and supervisors. Three women said they were raped by fellow employees. The video below is a 12-minute version of the piece. The link above has more details.

Below is an excerpt from the PBS story:

In the private sector, employees can file discrimination complaints directly with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent agency tasked with investigating workplace discrimination. But federal employees, including those in the Forest Service, must first contact their agency’s EEO counselor, who starts an investigation and then makes a decision with the agency on how to handle the complaint. Federal employees dissatisfied with the results can appeal that decision to the EEOC or pursue a case in federal district court.

Many of the women interviewed described the reporting process as long, complicated, and never ending in a satisfying conclusion. Investigations can take years and stretch into hundreds of pages, especially if there is more than one allegation.

The EEOC said the average processing time for all complaints in fiscal year 2016 was 464 days, and that it’s exploring ways to shorten the process. The Forest Service’s new hotline, which is staffed by contractors specifically trained to handle sexual harassment, aims to more efficiently respond to these claims.

[…]

The Forest Service, for its part, said it updated its anti-harassment policy ahead of the [December 2016 congressional] hearing, in September 2016, and launched the national hotline the following November. Since the new anti-harassment policy was put in place, the agency said, it has received 1,013 reports of harassment, and completed inquiries or investigations in 632 of those cases. Of those, the agency said it found misconduct in 150 cases.

Shawna Legarza, National Fire Director for the USFS

In April, 2017 I talked with Shawna Legarza nine months after she began her job as the National Fire Director for the USFS. I asked if there was an area that she felt strongly about, enough that she would give it special attention, and she said, “Absolutely! I’m trying to make some changes in the workplace environment, I feel very strongly about that. I want to see the agency have a workforce that is completely inclusive of each other … and that people’s voices can be heard, understood, listened to and incorporated into all that we do, and that there is no discrimination of any kind. I am very passionate about that and I want to try to make a difference in the workplace environment for all wildland firefighters, for the Forest Service and other agencies.”

“I talk about,” she said, “having a workforce where everybody comes to work, they’re proud to be there, and included in whatever area they are working in, their voices are heard, they are listened to — free of discrimination, free of bias — it’s just a way of being. We’ve got some new initiatives that we are trying to roll out to the workforce.

Ms. Legarza, we were told, was not available for comment today because government offices in the District of Columbia were closed due to weather. The statement below was issued by Dan Jiron, the Department of Agriculture’s Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Natural Resources and the Environment:

The stories the Forest Service employees shared during the PBS NewsHour piece are important to hear, difficult and heart-wrenching as they may be.  Stories like these, which have come to light over the past few years, have underscored that there are elements of sexual harassment in the Forest Service that have existed and continue today.  While we have taken significant actions over the past several years to address sexual harassment in the Forest Service, we acknowledge that we have more work to do. These are critical issues that the Forest Service must continue to take on to increase our efforts to protect our fellow employees so they know they can speak up and speak out, without any fear of retaliation or reprisal. Victims must know that there will be accountability for persons who engage in sexual harassment and reprisal.  We are committed to our duty to create a workplace that is respectful, rewarding, and above all, a safe place for all employees.

Congressional hearings

This is not the first time allegations of sexual harassment within the federal firefighting agencies have surfaced. Below are examples between 2014 and 2016, but others regarding the USFS go back much further, to 1972. Some of the recent issues include the National Park Service as well as the USFS.

    • In September 2014 seven female wildland firefighters with the U.S. Forest Service filed a complaint against the Department of Agriculture alleging that they suffered job discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse at the hands of male co-workers and that top agency officials failed to stop it.
    • In March, 2016 the Huffington Post in a lengthy article by Kathryn Joyce described what appeared to be a stunning culture of serious sexual harassment being virtually tolerated in some locations within the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
    • September 22, 2016 the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform heard testimony from two employees about harassment in the NPS and the USFS. Kelly Martin, Fire Management Officer at Yosemite National Park, described “..a hostile work environment in Yosemite where dozens of individuals have come forward with personal statements of demoralizing behavior to include acts of bullying, gender bias, and favoritism.” She also described sexual harassment in a previous job when she worked for the USFS.
    • Members of that same House Committee and other Senators and Congresspersons, a total of 13, signed a letter on November 10, 2016 requesting that Phyllis K. Fong, the Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General, conduct an audit of the USFS to find out if progress has been made after allegations surfaced in 2014 of “sexual misconduct and retaliation in Region 5 [California] of the FS”.
    • On December 1, 2016 the committee held another hearing “to address misconduct, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment of women within the U.S. Forest Service”, and, “to examine the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s management of its Office of Civil Rights and handling of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.” One of the witnesses to testify was Denice Rice, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Eldorado National Forest at El Dorado, California. She told a horrifying story of being harassed for years by her supervisor and then being victimized again with reprisals.

Kelly Martin, Yosemite

Sexual harassment Kelly Martin, Yosemite National Park Fire Management Officer
Kelly Martin, Yosemite National Park Fire Management Officer, at the hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, September 22, 2016. Screen grab from the committee’s video.

Kelly Martin, Yosemite National Park’s Chief of Fire and Aviation Management, has had a 34-year career with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. For the last decade she has served as the Chief of Fire and Aviation Management in the park. She was one of the witnesses who testified at the September 22, 2016 Congressional hearing. We asked her today about her reaction to the March 1 PBS Newshour story:

Most women I have talked to fear coming forward for this very reason [retribution].  People will not believe them. It’s time we start believing them! Most women I know who have been through sexual harassment and hostile working conditions want the toxic behaviors to stop and by coming forward they hope by breaking the silence, working conditions in the federal wildland fire services will be better for their sisters and brothers coming up through the ranks.

NPS as a whole has made significant strides in addressing the need to hold perpetrators accountable. NPS Fire on the other hand only has 3 female Fire Management Officers nationwide. There is a very high drop out rate of women rising through the ranks.

Not just women should be asking this question but our men in leadership positions should be concerned by asking this very same question. Identify the reasons why women drop out and commit to a plan of progressive gender equality in wildland fire. Period!

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.