For Immediate Release: Aug 10, 2005
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337


Agency Manual Hastily Amended; Independent Law Enforcement Program at Risk

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 slot.

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.”


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

Read the July 20, 2005 announcement of the Twiss appointment

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

View the internal memo outlining understaffing crisis