Tags: ,

Washington, DC — In an unprecedented step, the Chief of the U.S. Forest
Service has appointed a new Director of Law Enforcement and Investigations who
lacks any previous law enforcement experience, according to agency documents released
today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). To accommodate
the move, the agency has hurriedly amended its manual to remove the requirement
that the Director of Law Enforcement must be a peace officer, i.e., GS-1811 Criminal
Investigator, and to allow the position “Top Secret access” without
the normal background checks.

On July 20, 2005, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth named John Twiss, a long-time
Forest Service employee who has spent a good portion of his career in staff
positions within Washington. D.C. headquarters, as the Director of Law Enforcement
and Investigations effective July 24. Twiss is the first person without any
law enforcement qualifications or credentials to occupy the top law enforcement

In his new job, Twiss will oversee approximately 660 Special Agents and uniformed
Law Enforcement Officers who investigate resource crimes, such as timber theft
and fossil poaching, as well as a range of other crimes, such as clandestine
drug labs, on 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands covering more
than 193 million acres.

In addition to his lack of experience, Twiss’ appointment also reverses
a decade of progress in increasing the professionalism of the Forest Service
law enforcement program in that a civilian will be making decisions about how
criminal and other sensitive investigations will be conducted.

Twiss has also signaled he will seek to end the independence of the law enforcement
program by making investigators answer to the forest supervisors and rangers
who are often the subject of investigations or may be embarrassed by the outcomes
of internal probes. After a series of scandals in the early 1990s involving
cover-ups of timber-theft, illegal alien exploitation and prostitution, Congress
mandated that the Forest Service law enforcement be independent of, or “stove-piped”
from, the agency chain-of-command.

“By putting an unqualified suit, such as John Twiss, at the top of the
stove pipe, Chief Bosworth has, in essence, gutted both the effectiveness and
the independence of the Forest Service’s law enforcement program,”
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization led the campaign
to convince Congress to order the formation of an independent law enforcement
organization. “This move signals that all future Forest Service investigations
will be politically vetted.”

The independence of Forest Service law enforcement drew the ire of Agriculture
Undersecretary Mark Rey last year after he unsuccessfully tried to quash a criminal
notice of violation against Representative Henry Brown (R-SC) for negligence
in allowing a fire on his property to burn out of control and spread into the
Francis Marion National Forest.

Aggravating concerns about the future effectiveness of the Forest Service law
enforcement program is mounting evidence that is seriously under-funded in the
face of a growing workload. According to a confidential internal agency assessment,
the Forest Service law enforcement program has –

  • Only one officer “for every 291,000 acres of national Forest and
    every 733,000 annual visitors;”
  • Lost more than 300 positions during the past decade and today “204
    LEI positions deemed critical by the corresponding line officers are now held
    vacant to remain within budget constraints;” and
  • Been assigned new Homeland Security, border patrol and other obligations
    without sufficient funding, leaving the program “severely understaffed
    to address need of National Forest lands.”

“Far from being a forceful advocate for law enforcement, John Twiss was
tagged to put a happy face on an increasingly grim situation.” Ruch added,
noting the irony of the appointment coinciding with the agency centenary. “By
this appointment, Chief Bosworth endangers the natural resource legacy that
the U.S. Forest Service is supposed to conserve for the next century.”


the summary of Forest Service manual changes to allow a civilian to serve as
Director of Law Enforcement

the July 20, 2005 announcement of the Twiss appointment

about Rep. Henry Brown’s attempt to quash an arson investigation

the internal memo outlining understaffing crisis

Phone: 202-265-7337

962 Wayne Avenue, Suite 610
Silver Spring, MD 20910-4453

Copyright 2001–2024 Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility

PEER is a 501(c)(3) organization
EIN: 93-1102740