...A feeling of futility, made worse by interference from George W. Bush's political appointees, has driven many employees to either bide their time or leave altogether, Iverson says. The agency is "pretty much demoralized and cowering in the shadows. There are almost no people in the higher office of the Forest Service that will stand up to the powers that be."
Beginning in 1990, Gregory Brown, program director of environmental studies at Central Washington University, conducted three surveys of Forest Service employees and their attitudes about their work. Workforce morale is currently at its lowest, Brown says. The culprits include workforce reductions — which further stress remaining employees, who now have to do multiple jobs — ambiguous operating procedures and the shift of cash away from management programs to firefighting work.
Whether the issue is energy development or roadless lands, the Bush administration has pressured federal employees, including those within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, NOAA Fisheries and Environmental Protection Agency, to bow to the needs of industry and even subvert environmental regulations — much to the detriment of morale. For the Forest Service, which was already struggling when Bush took office, the last eight years have been particularly hard.
Forest Service employees were also whacked by two Bush administration initiatives: The competitive outsourcing initiative, which would have privatized about two-thirds of the agency's workforce, and the consolidation of personnel offices to Albuquerque, N.M.
The outsourcing initiative was cut short, but beginning three years ago, personnel employees from regional and field offices were faced with the decision to either relocate or leave their jobs. Rather than alleviate administrative tangles, the consolidation has spawned new complications: All employees must now deal with their own paperwork — related to travel, for example, or new hires — or else run it through the Albuquerque office, which Stahl says has become a "black hole" thanks in part to a poorly designed computer system. And while an estimated 800 employees work there, no one could answer HCN's questions about current employment and attrition numbers. Instead, the requests ended up being routed through Washington, D.C., and an office in Arkansas.
"Those are the types of day-to-day incompetencies of the Bush administration that were driven by ideology," says Stahl. "Neither (initiative) proved to be better or cheaper, and both were incredibly devastating to the workforce."
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