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January 14, 2008

NEPA Outsourcing Games Continue

If you care about Public Lands and their use and abuse by the agencies that manage them, you should keep close tabs on what the US Forest Service is doing as per compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). And you should closely watch what it is doing with TO its NEPA practitioners — people charged with keeping the agency honest in compliance.

Late last year the US Congress disallowed the Administration from considering outsourcing the people who manage what the Forest Service calls the "NEPA Process" via OMB "Competitive Sourcing" mandates (you have to dig deep into the Omnibus Appropriations Act for details). So now the game shifts to what the agency calls "Business Process Reengineering". Preliminary indicators are not promising.

In a study undertaken by the US Forest Service and shared internally last August, [PDF], there are strong hints that the course forward will involve clustering agency NEPA practitioners into regional service centers. It seems that the agency believes that NEPA compliance is about analytics, not public engagement in deciding proper direction and action for policy, programs, and projects. I disagree, as I noted in SOURCED! — NEPA Next in Line.

NEPA is not the problem with what the Forest Service labels "process gridlock", as I outlined earlier. Rather, appropriate NEPA compliance is a way forward for the agency and the Congress to begin a much-needed rethinking of the Forest Service's vision, mission, policies, and programs. And to begin for the first time to serioully seek means to comply with the laws that govern it.

We will be watching as the "FS Business Process Reengineering" moves along. Too bad we can't watch closely via the Forest Service's new management blog which, unfortunately, was relegated to the Intranet — a firewall away from public scrutiny. (But we would welcome any hints as to the success of the blog from agency folks).

Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has more today, beginning:

The U.S. Forest Service is on the verge of approving a massive restructuring that will remove land management planning from individual forests, according to agency documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The resulting reorganization will affect one in four agency jobs, shrink its on-the-ground firefighting militia and rigidify resource planning. …

Posted by Dave on January 14, 2008 at 10:17 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: Ex-FS NEPA nerd

Just to make it intellectually interesting, let's just assume for a moment that there is no political or nefarious purpose behind the re-engineering. Which parts of the internal NEPA work might be better done in a centralized location, and which parts should stay in field units? I would think some generic GIS and layout work could be efficiently centralized. A centralized technical editor could probably make the documents better. I would think that the public involvement and field recon work would need local expertise. Any thoughts along those lines?

Ex-FS NEPA nerd | Jan 16, 2008 8:15:31 PM

Posted by: Dave Iverson

"Ex" says, "I would think some generic GIS and layout work could be efficiently centralized. A centralized technical editor could probably make the documents better. I would think that the public involvement and field recon work would need local expertise."

Certainly. And there is plenty of GIS work being done centrally already. So too with technical editing, etc. More might be done, but needn't be done under the banner of "NEPA BPR".

Best I can tell, the NEPA BPR is now on a slow boat to nowhere anyway, with the FS having heard the message from Congress as to excessive outsourcing. And the agency too is awaiting this fall's presidential and Congressional elections to see where the political winds blow thereafter. In a way this notion is counter to the message of my post. No matter, I still don't think the FS has begun to value NEPA, ESA, and other environmental legal compliance in ways that will benefit our public lands. Time for the FS to buy a ticket to the "clue train." But that too isn't going to happen overnight.

Dave Iverson | Jan 18, 2008 9:27:22 AM

Posted by: Mike Dechter

A nightmare in the making.

It would have been nice to hear of this decision from our Forest Service Chief rather than reading about it from PEER and the dozens of news articles based on the PEER press release.

Mike Dechter | Jan 22, 2008 3:12:24 PM

Posted by: Dave Iverson


It the stuff of Puppets and Puppet Masters, methinks. There was a time when "Chief of the US Forest Service" meant something. Forest Service Chiefs dared say things. That time is long past.

We keep the myth alive that we don't have political appointees at the helm. But it is way too much the stuff of myth and too little the stuff of reality.

Time for a NEW DEAL. Time for agencies to assert thier semi-independence as a true Fourth Branch of Government, still responsible to legislative, judicial, and executive mandates, but able to work their way through the maze w/o micromanagement puppeteering. The Forest Service came close, for quite some time to living up to this mandate, but lost its way by getting too cosy to its handlers when playing the big-money timber games of the 60 and 70s. It has been lost ever since.

Dave Iverson | Jan 23, 2008 2:55:37 PM

Posted by: lynn

What about the US Forest Service NEPA Practitioners who are charged with keeping the agency honest in its compliance and decision-makers who see NEPA as a burden and are all too comfortable with not following the letter of the law because they're willing to take the risk that they won't be caught?

lynn | Jan 29, 2010 9:33:49 PM

Posted by: Dave Iverson

Getting FS folks to better understand what their "public responsibilities" are, including their legal responsibilities, is a focus of my Adaptive Forest Management blog. The blog is/was meant to help FS managers and the public better understand the deplorable state of the Forest Service and to help all to become better informed on how responsible, responsive, and adaptable organizations work.

Here's a link to Adaptive Forest Management:

Dave Iverson | Jan 30, 2010 1:18:06 PM

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