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For Immediate Release: May 06, 2014
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

RETIREES DECRY FOREST SERVICE LAW ENFORCEMENT MELTDOWN

Agriculture Secretary Asked to Remove Enforcement Chief for Rank Incompetence


Washington, DC — A coalition of retired Forest Service special agents and law enforcement officers sees their former program “in a state of crisis” that can be cured only by reassigning the current director. The group, representing more than a millennium of Federal law enforcement service, is imploring Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack to intervene to end a “culture of negative leadership” afflicting the agency’s Law Enforcement and Investigations (LE&I) program, according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

Signed by 52 LE&I veterans, the letter focuses on “the incompetence of its current Director, David L. Ferrell” and includes a detailed analysis of how Mr. Ferrell lacks every one of the Executive Core Qualifications required by Office of Personnel Management to remain in his current Senior Executive Service position. The letter ascribes to Ferrell’s poor leadership –

  • An all-consuming “chaos, fear, stress, defeat, anger, isolation, retaliation, learned helplessness, and anxiety [leaving] an entire workforce with a broken spirit”;
  • An inability “to lead strategically and to establish a clear vision and priorities at all levels of the organization. These things, along with his weak technical background in law enforcement and budgeting, and extreme risk aversion, have combined to drag this program to a crawl”; and 
  • “He alone was a significant reason many of the undersigned transferred or retired when we did.”

This year under Ferrell, the LE&I program suffered a sudden unexplained 15% budget cut while other Forest Service sectors’ budgets grew. He has also been embroiled in a series of morale-killing fiascos ranging from assigning ticket quotas to giving only top managers raises while officers were hit with wage freezes and furloughs. Last month, PEER released results from an all-employee LE&I survey in which he received appallingly low ratings for effectiveness, honesty and respect.

“Director David Ferrell has lost the confidence and respect of 80% of the officers he is supposed to be leading –a colossal failure of inspiring and motivating your workforce,” said Jack Gregory, the retired Special Agent-in-Charge for the Southeastern Region who first hired Ferrell into LE&I, citing results from the PEER survey. “We could no longer simply stand by and watch the program to which we dedicated our professional lives slowly be destroyed.”

The retirees turned to Secretary Vilsack when it became clear that Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell would not address the problems. Following an April 11th all-hands meeting which drew hundreds of negative and virtually no positive comments about Ferrell, Tidwell backtracked on his promise to release all the comments and appeared to signal that removing Ferrell was not under active consideration.

“Chief Tidwell failed to provide the proper oversight and guidance to a program that requires both financial support as well as common sense,” added Gregory who helped organize the group letter. “Unfortunately Chief Tidwell is like the irresponsible homeowner who fails to check for termites while the house is being eaten from within, down to its foundation.”

“It takes very serious problems to stir retirees back into the harness,” stated PEER Director Jeff Ruch. “Their voices of experience should not be ignored.”


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Read the retirees’ letter

View the analysis of Ferrell core qualifications

Look at the PEER survey results

See Tidwell backtracking

Revisit some recent Ferrell debacles