It’s always a great pleasure and honor to connect across the agency with each other. During these calls, I look forward to the insights, questions and the leadership that you all provide. During yesterday’s call, we focused on several topics: the proposed changes to the way we comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the way we will move forward with our Job Corps centers, consolidation of certain staff areas and functions, hiring, and who we are as an agency.
Below is a summary of the points that were covered in the call. We look forward to ongoing engagement with all of you. If we didn’t get to your question during the call, you can ask it in in the Leadership Corner Forum, but please read the summary first—you might find your answer there. You can also listen to a recording of the call, here.
National Environmental Policy Act
These proposed changes to how we comply with the NEPA regulations were not created lightly. We reviewed nearly 10 years of our own environmental analysis data and looked at 100s of projects—our own and other agencies’. What we realized is that we over-analyze. We take more time and do more analysis than other agencies for similar size and scope projects—and over and over again the result is a Finding of No Significant Impact. Gathering public input before the analysis will continue to be required for all environmental impact statements.
We heard the requests from our partners and the public for more time to provide comments, so we extended the public comment period by 14 days. Understandably, there are concerns associated whenever changes such as these are planned, and we want to make sure we give everyone ample time to share. When it comes to protecting our shared natural resources, we want to make sure the American people are not left feeling like their voices were ignored or silenced.
These changes are meant to help address the more than 80 million acres of national forests in need of treatment. We can’t continue to do business as usual. This proposal will allow us to improve how we perform analysis and make speedier decisions that allow us to get that work going.
The National Environmental Policy Act drives how we perform public engagement, but it is not why we engage. We work with the people and communities we serve because it is the right thing to do.
We have been accepting comments on the proposed rule since June 12. We have more than 55,000 comments that we will review and carefully consider once the comment period ends. We will use those comments to craft the best rule that we can.
I’m really proud of the work we’ve done and I am asking you to share your experience on how to work together to achieve the work we have ahead of us in a responsible, science-based manner.
We are all aware of the announcement that Secretary Perdue made concerning the transfer of the Job Corps to the Department of Labor in May. There were a lot of voices concerned about this decision. We met with the Secretary to hear his concerns and, in turn, shared our proposed solutions. The result of these meetings was a reversal of his original decision to transfer the centers away from our agency. It will be a challenge to meet these expectations, but everyone across the Forest Service and Job Corps is committed to meeting and exceeding them.
You may have heard we are looking to consolidate our Chief Information Office and Acquisition Management. The second phase of the CIO consolidation efforts is now underway. The objectives here are to remove silos and redundancies from across the department, creating a more efficient team and a more deliberate and strategic IT investment.
We have a strong Forest Service team working with the department. We have a solid dialogue and participation with our USDA counterparts throughout this entire process.
With regards to the AQM consolidation, it has been underway for just over a year and the union is involved in the discussion. I want to reiterate, as we move forward, that all employees involved will remain with the Forest Service and no employee will be relocated or lose their grade as a result of this process.
Leadership is very aware of the pain and frustration around hiring and we are committed to turning that around.
We keep moving forward, trying to close our backlog of open positions. And we are making some headway in that area. This week, we on-boarded over 100 new employees in Human Resources, new employees who will help with classification, staffing and other “high touch” areas.
Also, we recently received notice from the Office of Personnel Management that they granted our request for a direct hire authority for some of our fire positions. This is great news that should help us fill critical gaps and cut down on staffing timeframes. This is a temporary authority, expiring August 2020. HR is working on guidelines for how to use this authority that will come out in the next week or so. We’ll work together to follow guidance so that we can make a case to keep this authority next year.
National Work Environment Survey
Thanks to the efforts of Leslie Weldon and the folks at the Work Environment and Performance Office, we recently completed our first-ever National Work Environment Survey.
Nearly 8,000 employees took the time to complete the survey. We appreciate everyone who took time to participate in the survey. It is everyone’s responsibility to break the silence.
We will use the information collected to develop policies that improve our work environment. We are still in the process of compiling data, but once we complete the analysis, we plan to be fully transparent with these results.
We still have a lot of work to do, even though we are making progress. We need to continue improving our processes and developing new skills to help us take better care of each other. As part of these improvements, WEPO is working to ensure that all employees are aware of existing tools to address these concerns.
In the near future, WEPO plans to roll out webinars, videos and a resource guide to ensure everyone knows who to contact for assistance. We want everyone to be empowered to address their situation and improve their work environment.
This is Who We Are
This is Who We Are is a resource and a reference that tells the story of who we are in eight parts. It’s an accessible, online booklet that is the result of more than 10 years of work. It contains our core values, what we stand for and how we want to treat each other. It’s our anchor point as an agency.
This is too important an issue to simply drop off booklets with employees. Therefore, we are testing engagement modules that cover all of the content. The modules allow employees to do a deeper dive into the material with some guided conversations and opportunity for personal reflection. We have also redesigned our entire New Employee Orientation around these principles. These changes will debut at the October orientation.
I want to express my gratitude on the quality of your thoughts and questions. I share with you the desire to make our agency better and to be in community with each other. To deliver the mission that has brought all of us to this place. The challenges are daunting at times, but I hope that through our vision and commitment we can be even better in the future. These are the conversations that really matter.
This is Who We Are. Values Based. Purpose driven. Relationship focused.