Forest Service Cops Again Call for Change but Losing Hope
Official Survey Shows Law Enforcement Officers Ill-Equipped, Alienated and Adrift
Washington, DC — U.S. Forest Service employees hold their top leaders in increasingly low regard but especially within its law enforcement program, according to survey results obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These latest dismal survey results cap a year of swelling chorus of calls for the removal of Forest Service Law Enforcement and Investigations (LE&I) Director Ferrell. The results also depict a law enforcement cadre which views themselves as ill-equipped and unsupported in meeting their mission.
The 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is conducted annually by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The portion obtained by PEER compares sentiment from within each component of the Forest Service as measured by nearly 90 questions on leadership, morale and related topics. These latest results were generally more negative than the 2013 survey in which LE&I consistently was the most negative of all Forest Service branches. The latest assessments of top leadership are simply jaw-dropping:
- Nearly 7 in 10 LE&I respondents have low regard for the integrity and honesty of leadership, nearly double similar Forest Service-wide ratings;
- Fewer than 1 in 7 is satisfied with “policies and practices” of LE&I senior leaders, half the agency-wide numbers; and
- Only 1 in 10 find LE&I leadership able to “generate high levels of motivation and commitment” while nearly 4 in 5 do not.
“These survey numbers are worse than public approval ratings for Congress,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization conducted a similar survey of all LE&I personnel earlier this year which also yielded ultra-high levels of dissatisfaction. “How can David Ferrell remain a law enforcement leader when more than two-thirds of his subordinates do not respect either him or his word?”
Survey results also reflect rising doubts about the ability of LE&I to protect visitors or forest assets:
- Less than 1 in 10 say they “have sufficient resources to get my job done”;
- Nearly 1 in 4 regard their working conditions are unsafe and even more feel unprepared for “potential security threats”; and
- Nearly half feel LE&I is not “successful in accomplishing its mission” while fewer than 1in 4 do.
“A sick leadership syndrome is compromising the ability of the Forest Service law enforcement program to function,” said Jack Gregory, the retired Special Agent-in-Charge for the Southern Region who helped to organize a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture signed by more than 50 retired Special Agents and Law Enforcement Officers calling for Ferrell’s immediate removal.
Symptoms of the breakdown in LE&I can be gleaned from answers to other survey questions, such as –
- Nearly half the LE&I respondents report “fear of reprisal” for disclosing a “a violation of any law, rule or regulation” nearly double the percentage for the agency as a whole;
- Less than 1 in 5 LE&I respondents say promotions “are based on merit” while nearly 3 in 5 say their management tolerates “favoritism”; and
- A plurality would not recommend LE&I “as a good place to work.”
This April following the scathing PEER survey, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell held an all-LE&I employee electronic town hall meeting which produced a new cascade of negative comments about Ferrell and his leadership. Despite a PEER Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the Forest Service is still resisting release of those comments but did release a “Content Analysis” of them that was blistering, even as paraphrased. Rather than promising to make a decision about Ferrell, Tidwell said he would do yet another employee “climate assessment” and bring in a new consultant to undertake a “program review.”
“How many more surveys do these jokers have to do before they pay attention to the results?” asked Gregory. “No wonder Forest Service employees feel growing contempt for their so-called leaders.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, when asked in this latest survey “I believe the results of this survey will be used to make my agency a better place to work” more than 3 in 5 LE&I staff responded negatively.