Forest Service Treads Water in Law Enforcement Maelstrom
Torrent of Discontent Results in Little Concrete Action and No Leadership Change
Washington, DC — The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service is trying to quell an epidemic of frustration in his law enforcement program but is offering little of substance to redress mounting grievances, according to new documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Most notably, Chief Thomas Tidwell has yet to address the growing chorus from both current staff and retirees demanding the removal of embattled Law Enforcement & Investigation (LE&I) Director David Ferrell.
In an extraordinary set of memos distributed on June 6, 2014, Chief Tidwell described actions his office is taking following a volcanic all-hands web-based “LiveMeeting” with LE&I line staff on April 11th. Among the documents distributed was a “Content Analysis” of the comments made by law enforcement personnel to the Chief. The analysis broke down more than a thousand comments, expressing dismay about LE&I leadership, toxic morale, inadequate support, a hostile work environment, lack of resources and other concerns. The Analysis pointed to an overwhelming dissatisfaction with Ferrell’s leadership:
“Participants expressed a strong lack of trust and a desired [sic] for a change in leadership; particularly executive and senior leadership. [Cited comments include]:
- ‘We will not solve our issues with more discussions. The field has lost faith and confidence. We need a change in leadership.’
- ‘How can we respect leadership when they do things that we would get hung out to dry for?’
- ‘The use of the word leadership within LEI is completely inappropriate.’”
This Content Analysis tracks the extremely negative results both of a PEER survey of LE&I staff earlier this year and the Forest Service’s own Employee Viewpoint Survey last year. Yet in his latest memo to LE&I staff, Chief Tidwell does not even mention Ferrell.
“By avoiding the leadership question, Chief Tidwell is ignoring the rogue elephant rampaging through the room,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “How can conditions improve when you leave in place the person who either caused them or allowed them to fester for years?”
Despite Chief Tidwell promising LE&I staff to undertake actions “to address our organizational issues” –
- The only actions Chief Tidwell has taken are arranging for yet another employee “climate assessment” and bringing in a consultant to undertake a “program review”;
- He released four “briefing papers” by his staff on discipline, transfers, promotion and overtime which all conclude that no policy changes are needed in any area; and
- Special Agents-in-Charge, the senior LE&I staff, have issued identical talking points declaring “we believe the recent attacks on the Director is [sic] an attack on all LEI line leadership.”
“The continued retention of Director Ferrell defies all logic,” 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 52 retired Special Agents and Law Enforcement Officers calling for Ferrell’s immediate removal. “Any other police department requiring damage control of this intensity would have their ‘Chief’ sitting at home on administrative leave until the root causes are sorted out.”
“Chief Tidwell appears to be stalling for time, hoping that yet another consultant report will save him from having to make a hard decision,” Ruch added, noting that the Chief is also punting on substantive issues such as LE&I budgetary shortfalls and unfilled vacancies. “Unfortunately, the Forest Service is circling the wagons rather than driving forward. As a result, the best people will continue to abandon careers in Forest Service law enforcement in droves.”