From theysaid on 6/30/2012:

A Major Development. The Fire Working Environment report and supporting letter from Randy Moore .

Many important items in the letter and report. Each of us will/must step up and take on what matters most.

To me, the following stuck out:

OK, I think we can help with that last bullet.

vicis est iam

ms

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

From Randy Moore, Region 5 Regional Forester

File Code:

5100

Date:

June 28, 2012

Route To:

(1700), (6100)

 

 

Subject:

Final Report - Fire Work Environment    

 

 

To:

All Region 5 Employees   

 

 

         

As Regional Forester, one of my responsibilities is to ensure that all employees are treated with dignity and respect in the workplace regardless of grade or position encumbered.  To make sure this is being done, it is necessary to review the Region’s practices, policies, and procedures.

 

As you recall from my January 11, 2012, letter to all employees, a number of concerns were raised with regard to the work environment of our fire personnel.  There is a perception that the Region has special challenges when it comes to the work environment for minorities and women, as well as hiring and retention in the Region, and that these issues may exist predominately in the fire organization.  To effectively address employees’ concerns, the Region chartered the Fire Work Environment (FWE) group to assess the situation and develop recommendations.

 

The FWE group assembled eleven focus groups that represented all functional areas of the fire organization including a focus group of Line Officers.  They heard a wide breadth of responses from a total of 221 employees.  An online survey was also provided to all employees for the purpose of gathering information to assist in reviewing business practices with the intended result of ensuring a more inclusive work environment.  There was also a tremendous response from the online survey.

 

The responses we heard from the FWE group and the online survey indicated that widespread problems did not exist specifically regarding the treatment of minorities and women in the workplace.  There were however, feelings of disrespect among the non-suppression disciplines such as prevention, fuels, and dispatch for their role within the fire organization.  There were also some inequities and disparate treatment in task books and training opportunities.  We also heard suggestions regarding how to create a more positive and inclusive workplace environment for all employees throughout the Region.

 

In my May 9, 2012, update, I shared with the Region that I received the final Executive Report and supporting materials from the FWE group.  A review of the information gathered from the focus groups and the on-line survey revealed six thematic areas of concern that warrant the Region’s immediate attention.  The six thematic areas are as follows:

1.      Leadership

2.      Human Resource and Civil Rights Processes

3.      Pay and Benefits

4.      Facilities and Housing

5.      Home – Work Life Balance

6.      Training and Development

 

The final Executive Report outlines short and long term recommendations related to the six thematic areas and the suggestions and valuable insights provided by employees.  I want to assure you that I am listening and I want to move forward in an efficient and effective manner.

 

It is noteworthy that prior to the completion and issuance of this final report, the Region had already begun to implement some of the recommendations focused on leadership with the 2012 Line Officer and Fire Leadership meeting, Supervisory Training sessions, and the development and delivery of L-280 for Natural Resource Specialists.  Fire facilities improvements have been underway since the 2008 Regional Retention effort and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project work.

 

As implementation of the recommendations contained in the final Executive Report continues, tasks will be identified and assigned to the appropriate unit/staff to achieve the remaining short and long term recommendations.  This endeavor was initially focused on the fire work environment, but after reading the report, I am confident that this will benefit our entire workforce.  My intent is to provide you an annual report on our accomplishments toward this report.  My expectation is that you stay engaged and involved to hold us accountable for our commitments to you. 

 

I am pleased to share with you the final report (enclosure 1) that identifies and addresses the many challenges affecting our work environment in the Pacific Southwest Region.  If you have any questions and/or concerns regarding the content of this report, you may contact Willie R. Thompson, Deputy Director FAM, at 707-562-8927.

 

 

/s/ Randy Moore

RANDY MOORE

Regional Forester

 

Enclosure

 

 

cc:  Sharon D AllenBrick

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley

Shawna Legarza

Jim Harris

Robert J Garcia

Kerri M Gilliland

Dan Duefrene

Rick Cowell

Roger Caballero

Elizabeth Barrera

Daniel R Diaz

Stanton Florea

 
 

Executive Summary

In 2011, a number of concerns were raised with regard to the work environment of Fire personnel in the Pacific Southwest Region (Region 5).  There is a perception that Region 5 has special challenges when it comes to treating minorities and women with respect, as well as hiring and retention in the Region, and that these issues may exist predominately in the fire organization.  As a result, Region 5 established an independent, employee committee called the “Fire Work Environment Group.” 

This effort was led by:

Robin Heard, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Administration, USDA

Willie Thompson, Deputy Director, Fire and Aviation Management, Region 5

Members of the Fire Work Environment Group:

Sharon Allen-Brick, Assistant Director, Workforce Development, Fire and Training, Region 5

Stanton Florea, Public Information Officer

Jeanne Pincha-Tulley, Forest Fire Chief, Tahoe National Forest

Roger Caballero, Helitack Squad Boss, Tahoe National Forest

Rick Cowell, Superintendent, Tahoe Hotshots, Tahoe National Forest

Shawna Legarza, Forest Fire Chief, San Bernardino National Forest

Daniel Diaz, Helitack Squad Boss, San Bernardino National Forest

Elizabeth Barrera, Center Manager, San Bernardino National Forest

Robert Garcia, Division Chief, Angeles National Forest

Jimmy Harris, Battalion Chief, Los Padres National Forest

Kerri Gilliland, Engine Captain, Shasta Trinity National Forest

Lois Lawson, Deputy Director Civil Rights, Region 5

Stephen Deep, Human Resources Officer, Region 5

Patricia Terrell, Facilitator, T &T Management

Sheron Johnson, Assistant to Patricia Terrell

 

The Fire Work Environment Group obtained input from employees to help identify challenges within the Fire Work Environment. This was achieved through a series of focus groups representing each of the functional areas of our fire organization as well as an online survey. The purpose of soliciting this feedback was to design and implement business practices that will result in a more inclusive work environment.

This report is the result of the Fire Work Environment Group assessing hundreds of pages of focus group transcripts, online surveys, and other feedback.  Our group synthesized all comments into issues and recommendations contained herein. It was determined by the group that issues only mentioned once or twice were more reflective of an individuals’ experience in the agency and perhaps not symptomatic of widespread problems in a particular area. 

We view this endeavor as an opportunity to effect change and to help us provide our employees the tools needed to achieve their work in a safe, respectful, inclusive work environment.  The successful transformation of Region 5’s culture required feedback from our most valuable resource – our employees.  These were not easy conversations to have, but our employees confronted these topics with thoughtful consideration and respect for the opinions of others.

Six thematic areas, listed below in no particular order, were identified from all feedback obtained:

1.       Leadership

2.       Human Resources and Civil Rights Processes

3.       Pay and Benefits

4.       Facilities and Housing

5.       Home – Work Life Balance

6.       Training and Development

Within these thematic areas, a brief synopsis of each “issue” has been provided as well as a series of “Short term” and “Long term” recommendations.  Narratives are based on employees’ feedback during the focus group sessions and responses to the online survey.  Recommendations are the Fire Work Environment Groups attempt to address the feedback received.

The focus group sessions and responses to the online surveys included a significant amount of comments and feedback related to the fire work environment as a whole.  Although issues and concerns were raised, positive feedback was received indicating that people liked their jobs and liked working outdoors. 

Background

The Fire Work Environment Group with assistance of a professional facilitator organized a series of eleven (11) focus groups that were held at the McClellan Wildland Fire Training and Conference Center in Sacramento, Calif.  These eleven focus groups represented all functional areas of the fire organization:

1.       Forest Aviation Officers, Helitack, and Smokejumpers

2.       Hotshots

3.       Engine Captain and Dozers

4.       Division Chiefs and Battalion Chiefs

5.       Advanced National Apprenticeship Academy

6.       Board of Directors and Assistant Directors

7.       Line Officers

8.       Fuels

9.       Dispatch and Training

10.   Fire Prevention and Information Officers

11.   Planning Team (Fire Work Environment Group)

The size and complexity of the Fire and Aviation Management Program in Region 5 can at times create an impact on other disciplines within the Forest Service.  The Fire Work Environment Group recognized the need to include viewpoints of our Line Officers and organized a representative focus group for District Rangers and Forest Supervisors.

The focus group sessions occurred over a period of two weeks, with two sessions per day, with the exception of the apprenticeship session that was added during the evening making it three sessions for that particular day.  These facilitated sessions provided an opportunity for employees to engage in open and candid discussions regarding Fire work environment issues.

These sessions were led by a professional facilitator and were recorded by a stenographer to ensure that all feedback was received.  The names of the participants were not used during the session to maintain a level of anonymity.  Participants were identified by the letter “P” (participant) and a number.  P1 represented participant number 1 and so on.

For those that did not attend a focus group, feedback was given online via a website made available concurrently with the focus groups. The opportunity to leave feedback online was available for all employees and recently retired (within three years) Forest Service fire personnel. 

The Fire Work Environment Group created seven key questions for the focus group sessions that were developed around Leader’s Intent.

Leader’s Intent

·         Task:  We want to obtain input from you to identify challenges within the Fire Work Environment.

·         Purpose:  We will use your input to design and implement business practices that will result in an inclusive work environment.

·         End State:  Every employee will feel valued, productive, safe, and will have the opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Key Questions

The following seven (7) key questions were presented during each focus group session:

1.       What are the specific challenges that you face within the work environment?

2.       What can we do to improve our outreach and recruitment practices to attract a diverse applicant pool in our area?

3.       What can we do to ensure that employees feel valued, welcomed, respected, and safe?

4.       What do you see as challenges to retaining employees in Region 5?

5.       Are there equal opportunities for training and development?  Please explain.

6.       Is there disparate treatment of disparate impact occurring in practices such as promotions and certifications of task books?  If so, what are they?

7.       Is the R5 FAM program effective at meeting diversity goals?  Yes, No, or I don’t know.

These questions were intentionally designed to be broad in scope to encourage a healthy dialog amongst the focus groups and for the online survey.  A “round robin” approach was used during the focus group sessions so that each participant would have the opportunity to respond to every question. 

Participants asked for definitions of key items such as “diversity;” however, in order to maintain continuity among all the focus groups, these terms were not defined but rather left up to the interpretation of individual participants, i.e. “What does diversity mean to you?”   Most of the participants defined diversity as “diversity of thought” rather than defining someone because of their skin color or ethnicity.  The following are comments captured illustrating the challenge of defining diversity.

“What are we talking about when we say the word ‘diverse’?  Are we talking about like people, they are based on their skills? Based on their race? When we say ‘diverse,’ what are we talking about? That’s where we are getting hung up sometimes.”

 

“I hate to go down that road because I don’t think that way.  We are in a colorblind society and I think some of these EEO complaints are just furthering our development to become a colorblind society. When I say “diverse,” I’m thinking somebody that may be from different socioeconomic background or the way they think.  A creative person versus a technical person; a person that has organized skills versus someone that may be an independent thinker.  When I say “diverse,” that’s what I’m thinking.

 

“I think there’s a question as to why there is a need for diversity. I’m not really sure that the Forest Service has explained that to employees. But I believe that may be to correct past practices or past errors that were made by people that worked for the agency.”

 

All of the comments and suggestions we received were carefully evaluated.  Issues mentioned only once or twice or without being emphasized, were determined to be more reflective of an individual’s experience and perhaps not symptomatic of widespread problems in a particular area.

The Fire Work Environment Group identified six (6) thematic areas from the common themes identified in the “Focus Group Sessions Final Report”.  They are:

1.       Leadership

2.       Human Resources and Civil Rights Processes

3.       Pay and Benefits

4.       Facilities and Housing

5.       Home – Work Life Balance

6.       Training and Development

We believe the most effective and practical course of action would be to be focus on the highest priority employee concerns and those that were common to multiple or in some cases, all segments of the fire organization.  These common issues emerged quite clearly due to repeated mentions by employees across functional areas.  Emphasis was placed on these topics through firsthand experiences.  It is in this report that we provide these universal themes along with a suggested course of action for each.

Common Thematic Area - 1:  Leadership

“They have been going about this for my whole career in the same manner, being driven by lawsuits and knee-jerk reactions by lawyers on how to manage the agency.  As they continue doing that, they will always fail.”

“There is a battle within the Forest Service.  There are two agencies.  There’s the Forest Service and then there’s Fire.”

“…the Line Officers are killing us with their lack of leadership skills.”

“Often times we work for an individual that doesn’t appreciate the distinctiveness nor the discipline of Fire Management.  They don’t possess the expertise to make decisions that we present them and yet they have the final say.”

“…we work for a Line Officer that doesn’t know what we do.”

“I am challenged by the structure of our agency.  I think we work against ourselves.  I think it’s a system that was built well for 100 years ago and what we had to do, but it doesn’t work now.”

“I think it’s in part that the people that are currently in charge really haven’t spent that much time on the ground.”

“Upper Management is a stepping stone to something else to them.  They are not really interested in how things work.  They are just interested in getting to the next level.”

“I think one of the best leadership tools that we can have today is to be able to explain why we’re doing things, what the changes are, and how they are going to affect people.”

“If something won’t work for those people on the ground, than the managers need to recognize that and include them into the decision making.  It doesn’t matter what their GS-level is.”

Issue 1:  There is a lack of communication up and down the chain of command. 

Narrative: 

Employees feel there is a lack of information flow from leadership to the field.  There is a lack of clear direction and generally no purpose or end-state associated with work assignments.  Often, important information about agency or regional issues comes through channels other than the chain of command. 

Short term recommendations -

·         Develop a clearinghouse website that will outline upcoming initiatives, allow employees to review and/or download relevant correspondence, and provide input.

ü  Offer a suggestion box on the website for employees to offer ideas and innovations, and develop a process for appropriate Departmental, Agency, or Office personnel to review, evaluate, and implement useful suggestions.

ü  Explore the possibility to partner with “They Said.”

ü  Make better use of the award program for suggestions that are utilized.

ü  Review the Marine Corps employee information model to use as a guide (www.USMC.mil).

ü  Upload appropriate reports onto the website, such as the “Best Agencies to Work For,” and annual/quarterly progress reports.

ü  Use the website to conduct surveys to obtain employee opinions on various subjects.

ü  Incorporate website accommodations for individuals with disabilities (508 Compliance).

·         Have bi-annual (Spring/Fall) discussions between Fire and Line Officers about what leadership and accountability means to Region 5 to build an effective and strong partnership.

ü  Move forward to identify ways to bridge the gap, recognizing that there are distinct differences.

·         Provide an explanation (the “why”) when direction is delivered.

·         Educate the region in the proper chain of command to facilitate the flow of communication.  (Training)

·         Create an environment where employees feel safe to ask questions and have discussions during decision-making processes to encourage diversity of thought. 

·         Require and track leadership training for line officers as we currently do for Fire employees.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Develop a leadership training continuum that provides on-going leadership training to all employees to enhance communications up and down the chain of command. 

ü  Region 5 employees will receive timely and consistent leadership and communications training.

ü  Identify and utilize leaders that are successful at communicating with their employees and empower them to provide training on what works.

ü  Make training mandatory and part of their performance evaluation for accountability purposes. 

ü  Develop a list of specific topics to address under leadership and communications training.

ü  Develop a list of position types that should receive a specific type of leadership and communications training.

 

Issue 2:  Field employees want participation in the decision-making process.

Narrative: 

Employee suggestions and input are not solicited or received with any serious consideration.  Professional input from subject-matter experts should be considered during the decision-making process to determine impacts in their areas.  Decisions are currently made without any consultation with ground employees about how these decisions impact them, their work environment, and their workload.

Short term recommendations -

·         Ensure Line Officers include fire employees in the decision-making process that impact the Fire Work Environment (FWE).

 

Issue 3:  Employees want recognition as a professional firefighting organization. 

Narrative: 

Employees desire to be recognized for the jobs they are performing as firefighters.  Forest Service firefighters are working in a GS-0462 Forestry Technician job series and this job series does not accurately reflect the true professional complexities, duties, and responsibilities of the position.

Short term recommendations -

·         Research what it takes to create a firefighter series and prepare a briefing paper for decision-making that outlines the steps for implementation, pros, and cons.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Create a firefighter series.

Issue 4:  Some Line Officers have a lack of understanding of the Region 5 Fire organization. 

Narrative: 

Region 5 line officers and fire personnel are tasked with oversight of large Fire organizations on increasingly complex management units throughout California.  Adequate training and familiarity with the Fire Work Environment is critical to land management success.  

Short term recommendations -

·         Require annual Agency Administrator Fireline refresher training.

·         Require Line Officers to spend a minimum number of hours in the field with Fire personnel.

·         Encourage line officers with fire experience to mentor and further develop line officers new to the agency and / or Fire.

·         Utilize the Line Officer Team (LOT) as a pathway for further dialogue and resolution of line officer fire training requirements.

·         Define what it takes for Line Officers to safely lead their employees.

·         Task the LOT to determine the minimum number of hours to spend in the field and with whom.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Line officers need to obtain an understanding of the Region 5 Fire organization (Cross-training)

·         Region 5 Fire organization needs to obtain an understanding of non-fire organization (Cross-training).

 

Issue 5:  Region 5 FAM organizational structure is outdated and affects our ability to manage current program requirements. 

Narrative: 

There is a definite split between Fire and Line Officers, which is felt on both sides equally.  There is no agreement on mission and the structure of the organization.  Key leadership and decision makers are currently not required to have firefighting experience.  With the majority of the Forest Service employees being in fire jobs, the field is largely under-represented in upper management levels.  Fire requires an ever increasing level of training and specialization to do our jobs that we need to be supervised by fire personnel who understand and support our mission.  

Short term recommendations -

·         Revisit the Region 5 mission and organizational structure to ensure effective and efficient alignment.

·         Identify various centralization options to determine which, if any, is best suited for Region 5.

·         Identify differences and determine ways to bridge the gap between Fire and Line Officers.

·         Have a discussion between Fire and Line Officers to define the expectations surrounding leadership, management, supervision, and accountability.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Determine whether the fire organization remains as is or is centralized (Example; by Forest, Province, Geographic Area, or Regional).

·         The rationale needs to be communicated with the reasoning behind the decision.

·         Review the various methods of centralization, such as by Forest, Province, Geographic Area, and Regional and decide which will address the issue of an outdated organizational structure.

·         Key leadership and decision makers should be required to have firefighting experience. (Quantify what firefighting experience means).

 

Issue 6:  Supervisors do not feel empowered to deal with employee issues.

Narrative: 

Supervisors are not given the authority to carry out many inherent supervisory responsibilities, such as; the inability to assign awards, lack of disciplinary authority, and no hiring and firing authority.  Supervisors are frustrated with the inability to effectively lead and manage their employees.  Supervisors lack the authority to effectively deal with problem employees.  Not only do they lack the authority, they also lack the experience, the knowledge, and the time due to workload issues.  On top of this, supervisors are receiving a lack of support from Line Officers to follow these issues through completion.  The time consuming nature of the disciplinary process leads people to “give up” and not follow through with issues because they do not have the energy.  Unresolved disciplinary issues lead to employee distrust of their supervisors and the agency.  Criminal backgrounds are not shared and only become evident when same or similar behaviors arise after employment.         

Short term recommendations -

·         Incorporate supervisor’s roles and responsibilities and the importance of properly handling issues with employees through effective oral communication and written documentation within the upcoming supervisory training curriculum. 

·         Provide a quarterly regional Adverse Actions Digest to illustrate that employees are being held accountable for their unacceptable behavior.

·         Communicate leader’s intent from the Regional Forester on consistency and appropriateness of penalties across the Region.

·         Region 5 should develop and produce a simplified policy manual, which include permissible and effective methods to discipline employees.  Offer training to supervisors about the proper procedures for disciplining employees.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Determine what tools supervisors really need, compare them to what they currently have, and shrink the gap between the two.  Educate supervisors about various award programs. 

·         Ensure that supervisors can build travel, training, and awards into their budgets.  Work with regional office Planning, Development, and Budget staff to articulate travel, training, and awards within forest budget advice.

·         Set up a hotline specific to Region 5 (phone and through website) that is handled within the Forest Service, for employees to daylight problem employee issues anonymously, when dealing with issues through the chain of command is not making headway.

·         Conducts a trend analysis of our existing employee relations data, produce recommendations based on common themes, and develop an action plan to mitigate negative trends in a consistent manner.

 

Issue 7:  Some Fire supervisors and work leaders lack knowledge and experience.

Narrative: 

There are many new employees in all disciplines of the Forest Service.  This knowledge and experience vacuum is especially apparent in the lack of leadership abilities.  Employees are voicing their opinion at the lower levels that their immediate supervisors and work leaders are not qualified to lead them safely.  There is a lack of good leaders, insufficient follow through, unqualified employees being promoted, and a lack of support from upper management. 

Short term recommendations -

·         Recognize that leaders need to be trained on how to lead.

·         Develop an annual mandatory leadership refresher.

·         Incorporate supervisor’s roles and responsibilities and the importance of properly handling issues with employees through effective oral communication and written documentation within the upcoming supervisory training curriculum.

·         Provide a quarterly regional Adverse Actions Digest to illustrate that employees are being held accountable for their unacceptable behavior.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Train leaders how to treat employees with an open mind and in a fair and equitable manner (Training).

·         Leadership needs to be trained to know that equitable and fair means to treat each employee fairly based on their personal situation on a case by case basis.

·         Develop Primary Leadership Academy for mid-level fire managers, including a competency assessment based on simulations.

·         Develop leadership training continuum for all levels. 

 

Issue 8:  There is a lack of management consistency and variation exists in the implementation of policy.

Narrative: 

With the wide range of both geographic area and leadership, interpretation of direction creates large inconsistencies with management of the Fire organization.  This inconsistency leads to unclear direction of what is proper direction within the region.  Examples include different implementation of the Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) program – equipment replacement, differing duty officer expectations, and variations in the implementation of the policy of vehicle home storage.

Short term recommendations -

·         Clear definitions of duty officers’ expectations.

·         Make a decision regarding vehicle home storage for duty officers.

·         Find a mechanism to fund equipment replacement. (Example: S.C.B.A)

·         Decide what should be standard business practices for fire operations.

·         Revisit existing policy and authorities.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Identify and secure replacement funding.

·         Regional and Forest leadership should prioritize funding needed to maintain mission critical equipment (hand tools, personal protective equipment, self-contained breathing apparatus, etc.).  Develop an action plan to address these issues.

 

Issue 9:  Employees want to feel valued, welcomed, respected, and safe.   

Narrative: 

There is a general feeling that individuals within the Fire organization are not valued.  Employees want management to say “thank you” for a job well done.  The working conditions (e.g., facilities, equipment) do not allow employees to feel safe.  Employees feel that respect should be earned and not demanded.  Employees want to be recognized and treated in a professional manner and not seen as a manual labor workforce.

Short term recommendations -

·         Re-evaluate and communicate fire’s role within the agency’s mission.

·         Hold employees accountable for their behavior; understanding that one cannot legislate behavior.

·         Recommendations implemented within this document will have a positive impact on the FWE.

·         Ensure that the facilities survey team includes a Safety Officer versed in physical security issues for Fire employees.

·         Ensure that positive feedback about the work that firefighters do, is communicated to the firefighters.

·         Listen to employees, reward them, give equal opportunities for projects, encourage “self-efficacy.”

·         Partner with law enforcement to develop and implement immediate mitigations to ensure employee safety and security at all facilities.

·         Provide Class A uniforms for ceremonial purposes.

 

Long term recommendations:

·         Continue to monitor the Fire Work Environment to update and revise the recommendations within this document.

·         Continually re-evaluate and communicate Fire’s role within the agency’s mission.

·         Listen to employees, reward them, give equal opportunities for projects, encourage “self-efficacy.”

·         Continue to partner with law enforcement to develop and implement long term plans to ensure employee safety and security at all facilities.

 

Common Thematic Area - 2:  Human Resources - Civil Rights Processes

“I’ve been in the agency 16 years and I’m a Forestry Technician.  I’ve watched peers die and be hurt.  I think it is a complete lack of respect to not have a professional firefighter series.”

 

“I think fire carries the diversity for the Forest Service in this region.  Maybe we ought to start looking at the other departments and have them start carrying their fair share.”

 

“Call us firefighters and pay us as such.”

 

“There is too much emphasis on diversity…I believe that we need to be hiring on qualifications.”

 

“AVUE sucks.  It’s horrible.  The whole process is complicated…if can’t understand it being within the agency, I have no idea how somebody outside the agency can.”

 

“I have no idea what the diversity goals are”

 

“I don’t think recruitments the problem.  It’s keeping qualified people.”

 

“What are we talking about when we say the work diverse?  Are we talking about people, based on their skills?  Based on their race? …when I say diverse, I’m thinking somebody that may be from a different socioeconomic background or the way they think.  A creative person versus a technical person, a person that has organized skills versus someone that may be an independent thinker.  When I say diverse, that’s what I am thinking.”

 

“Problem employees are doing things and they are never being fired.  They are not being punished.  They need to get rid of them…they are throwing their other folks under the bus.  I’ve seen it over and over again for 22 years now.”

 

Issue 1: The Albuquerque Service Center (ASC) and the field do not have the same expectation of customer service.

Narrative: 

There are multiple complaints among employees about poor customer service, slow response times, unprofessional behavior, and untimely processing.  The perception is that ASC does not return phone calls and their response to email requests is slow.  The untimely processing of security requirements delays employees in acquiring computer access.  There is a lack of knowledge of the fire work environment at ASC, resulting in bad decisions and substantial delays.  The time zone difference inherent in ASC’s location results in service issues.  For instance, they are off duty during peak work hours for R5 employees.  Several OWCP cases are taking over a year to complete because individuals are unclear on what is required on their end.

Short term recommendations -

·         R5 Fire employees offer to assist the ASC in person or remotely to help alleviate heavy workloads during peak times of the year, such as during Fire Hire and Temporary Hire.

·         During significant events, such as fatalities and serious accidents, require representation from ASC on site to assist with administrative processes.   

·         Review the implementation of the HR redesign to include business practices for incident management and daily fire program management on a 24-hour basis.

·         Processes surrounding OWCP cases need to be refined to allow supervisors to help individuals with their cases. 

·         Reinstitute the duty call for OWCP at ASC.

 

Long term Recommendations -

·         Consider options to restructure to provide more HR resources locally.

·         Create a task force of R5 employees to meet with the OWCP supervisors in ASC to work on refining processes and build a training education program.

·         Train and educate incident management team medical unit personnel in proper OWCP procedures; this training will include non-agency people.

 

Issue 2: Hiring practices need to be refined.

Narrative: 

The hiring process takes too long and hands are tied for R5 personnel because key decisions are made at ASC.  There is an overall issue of timeliness at all levels of service which results in delays in hiring.  The fire organization is unable to hire qualified applicants due to implied diversity requirements.  Perception is that quality applicants do not reach the top of the applicant pool because diversity is driving hiring.  

Short term recommendations -

·         Educate selecting officials, managers and employees regarding merit system principles and prohibited personnel practices, affirming the agency does not support pre-selection.

·         Selecting officials need to stay within policy and guidelines and hiring needs to stay within current merit promotion principles. (Ties into education)

·         When Regional Office receives a completed selection package, immediately assign it to a Regional Selecting Official (RSO). 

   

Long term recommendations -

·         Hiring processes need to be streamlined to fit within OPM’s 80-day hiring model, irrespective of the hiring pause and mandatory R5 settlement hiring practices.

·         National management needs to standardize the hiring process to minimize the impact to the field. 

·         Bring hiring back to the Forest level. 

 

Issue 3: Employees want to eliminate AVUE.

Narrative: 

AVUE is too difficult to navigate and is slow to complete requests.  These issues make the application process difficult, resulting in candidates who give up and do not apply.  Thirty to fifty percent of applicants do not show up on certs.

 

A new hiring system is slated to go online on September 1, 2012.

 

Short term recommendation -

·         The San Bernardino National Forest has offered to beta test the new hiring system.

 

Issue 4: There is a lack of understanding in what we need to do to address under-representation/diversity.

Narrative: 

Diversity goals within Region 5 are unknown to all levels of employees.  Region 5 employees need to understand that diversity means many different things to all of our employees.  Employees feel that we are obviously not meeting diversity goals due to the focus that upper management places on diversity hiring.  Many focus group participants voiced their concerns that diversity is driving hiring and do not understand why; as they feel they are plenty diverse in their individual workplaces. 

These feelings resulted in the following comments:

We must not be meeting diversity goals since we are gathered here today.”

 

“Do not want diversity forced down our throats.”  

 

“We are diverse.”

 

“Stop hiring based on the flavor of the month.”

 

“We will never achieve parity with the California Civilian Labor Force across all forests in R5.”

 

Short term recommendations -

·         Engage in discussions about diversity.

·         Define what diversity means for Region 5.

·         Communicate management’s definition and leader’s intent of “diversity.”

·         Share diversity goals with all levels of employees.

·         Share with employees the benefit of self-identification in their Ethnicity and Race Identification (ERI), Gender, and Disability, located on their Employee Personal Page.

·         Fire and Line should have a discussion on what selecting the best qualified candidate mean.

 

Long term recommendations -  

·         Utilize Civilian Labor Force demographics from the areas surrounding the local work unit to determine the diversity of the public that we serve.

·         Focus on selecting the best qualified candidates. 

 

Issue 5:  There is a lack of understanding about what the agency is doing to market job opportunities.

Narrative: 

The regional recruitment effort has a lack of marketing exposure and provides candidates with a lack of job specific information.  Region 5 needs to do a better job marketing the challenges, dedication, and sacrifice required to be a wildland firefighter.

Recommendations:

Short term recommendations

·         Post a public event calendar of all future job fairs and recruiting events on the USFS website (external website).

·         Involve fire personnel in recruiting efforts.

·         Cross-train recruiters and public affairs personnel to gain a baseline understanding of the fire organization and the jobs they are recruiting for.

·         Long term recommendations

·         Develop a region-wide job outreach and recruitment effort in the mass media so that the local units have a base to tier off of. 

·         Update the national recruiting effort and link it regionally.  (The national recruitment effort is – “Working for the Great Outdoors”)

 

Issue 6: There is a perceived inability to conduct face-to-face interviews.

Narrative: 

A lack of interviews contributes to the perceived notion that we are not hiring the most qualified candidates.

Short term recommendations -

·         Modify the Fire Hire process to provide the ability to conduct face-to-face interviews.

·         Include within job announcements, and educate management and employees that face-to-face interviews and reference checks are some of the selection tools available to them and must be applied in a consistent manner, with the understanding that budget, travel costs, and timeliness issues may be a limiting factor.

 

Common Thematic Area - 3:  Pay and Benefits:

“It’s certainly not about the money when my check comes in.  If you pay these people better you’ll recruit more and retain more.  I’m associating the pay with retention.  Pay me more, I’ll stay longer.  I have to feed my babies.”

 

“We have to have liability insurance…we are guilty until proven innocent.  And that’s with the agency.  That doesn’t make me feel safe.”

 

“It’s about the money and where we live.  Once our cooperators start opening up their doors (hiring), we will start to lose people again.”

 

“Either the agency pays us portal-to-portal, which they are willing to pay our cooperators, or the agency stops paying portal-to-portal for the cooperators.  Either pay us the same or don’t pay them.”

 

Issue 1:  The cost of living in California is not commensurate with current pay and benefits.

Narrative: 

The high cost of living in the State of California is not reflected accurately in the locality pay adjustments for the state.  Forest Service Wildland Firefighters are not being compensated equitably when compared to similar federal First Responders.  We need to recognize that when other First Responder agencies are hiring; there will be competition in retaining employees.

Short term recommendations -

·         Review and update the special pay table to include the entire State of California.  The new system should float with the annual cost of living increases.

·         Address portal-to-portal pay banding and publish the FAQs (Example: Department of Defense- DOD).

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Develop and propose a new series representing wildland firefighters based on the First Responders concept of similar federal occupations, e.g., law enforcement, customs, border patrol, DOD, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), etc.  Include factoring overtime and hazard pay into Firefighter retirement calculations.

 

Issue 2:  Temporary employees do not receive health and retirement benefits

Narrative: 

Temporary employees are not currently provided with health benefits.  They do not receive compensation from the agency in the same manner as permanent employees.  Temporary employees also do not receive step increases.

Short term recommendations -

·         Educate field personnel that changes in benefit regulations require congressional action and the agency cannot lobby for legislative change.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         In Region 5, consider converting temporary employees to permanent seasonals.

 

Issue 3:  Overtime and hazard pay are not calculated into retirement.

Narrative: 

Law Enforcement has overtime factored in their retirement, and fire employees do not.  Forest service employees working in fire can easily earn 50 percent or more of their total yearly salary in overtime and hazard pay.  When employees reach retirement age they are faced with a significant reduction in pay having their retirement benefits based solely on their base salary. 

Long term recommendations -

·         Develop and propose a new series representing Wildland firefighters based on the First Responders concept of similar federal occupations, e.g., law enforcement, customs, border patrol, DOD, TSA, etc.  Include factoring overtime and hazard pay into Firefighter retirement calculations.

 

 

Issue 4:  Currently firefighters do not receive hazard pay for prescribed fires.

 

Narrative: 

Firefighters face the same responsibilities and hazards as on wildland fire incidents, but do not receive hazard pay. 

Short term recommendation -

·         Research the validity of hazard pay for conducting prescribed fires.

 

Long term recommendation -

·         Approve hazard pay for prescribed fires.

 

Issue 5:  Exempt employees feel penalized by not receiving full overtime pay.

Narrative: 

Exempt employees do not receive full overtime for prescribed fires as they do for wildland fires and feel they are penalized for their exempt status.   

Short term recommendation -

·         Work with OGC to interpret the Executive Order that prevents exempt employees from receiving un-capped overtime pay for prescribed fires.

 

Long term recommendation -

·         Approve full overtime for exempt employees on prescribed fires.

 

Issue 6:  Region 5 employees would like 100 percent liability coverage.

Narrative: 

Employees believe the government should cover all related court costs and liability judgments that may arise in civil and criminal courts if the employee was found to be operating within the scope of their employment.  Employees understand that OGC will not cover an employee in civil and criminal courts because the government cannot similarly investigate an employee and represent them concurrently.    

Short term recommendations -

·         Investigate whether the Government provides liability coverage for criminal cases.

·         Educate employees regarding liability issues and coverage.

·         Review current legislation for the State of California’s Firefighter Procedural Bill of Rights 2007 for applicability within the Federal environment.

 

Long term recommendation

·         Federal government employees should be covered for 100 percent of any liability when operating within the scope of their duties.

 

Issue 7:  Employees expressed several concerns regarding the impacts of the agency’s decision to convert the 13-13 and 18-8 tours to 26-0.

Narrative: 

Employees expressed difficulty to afford childcare and transportation costs when they are receiving straight time pay during low fire activity.  Dual career issues (e.g., one spouse only being able to work in one specific location) or families being unable to move (e.g., lack of schools, community support) employees are commuting longer distances to get to their work sites.  When looking at the tours we did not consider which stations should remain open and which should consolidate resources during low fire activity.

Short term recommendations -

·         Return the 13-13 and 18-8 tours as an option.

·         Review the Office of Personnel Management Work/Life Section – Child Subsidy Program to see how it can be implemented within Region 5.

·         Explore options for telework, job sharing, change work schedules, etc.

·         Provide a centralized government vehicle or resources where employees can meet and carpool to the final worksite destination.

·         Allow forests and districts to share resources based on where employees reside and each unit’s workload.  

·         Increase ability for supervisors to be more flexible with employee requirements, such as tour of duties, sharing personnel between forests, carpooling, etc.

·         Provide clarification and education regarding job sharing policies and administrative support to local districts. 

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Empower management to implement options from short term recommendations for telework, job sharing, change work schedules, etc.

·         Develop a regional strategic plan to address which stations could be closed during low fire activity.

 

Issue 8:  Removing the Firefighter Retention Incentive created a financial hardship for employees.  

Narrative: 

Many of the focus group participants expressed concerns about the loss of the Firefighter Retention Incentive.  Employees did not have time to make financial adjustments due to the short notice of the decision to suspend the Firefighter Retention Incentive.  They became used to living on the extra money and did not receive adequate time to budget for the financial loss. 

 

Short term recommendations -

·         Reinstate the Firefighter Retention Incentive while we investigate the possibility of making it permanent.

·         Better communicate the process and rationale for decisions along the way, while investigating the possibility of making the Firefighter Retention Incentive permanent.

 

Long term recommendation

·         Replace the Firefighter Retention Incentive with a state-wide special pay rate for all fire employees.

 

Issue 9:  Employee Benefits and Retirement.

Recommendations:

Short term recommendations -

·         Offer apprentices counseling for benefits, retirement, and other career considerations.

·         Incorporate benefits, retirement, and career counseling into Advanced Academy Curriculum.

 

Common Thematic Area - 4:  Facilities and Housing

“We need improvements.  Some of our buildings are falling apart and there’s no money to fix or maintain them.”

 

“I think that it’s very difficult in the dual career world that we live in, if we don’t have housing to offer in areas that are very isolated.  It’s never going to be good.”

 

“Invest in improving our housing and facilities.  They are unappealing and unsafe.”

 

Issue 1:  Many work and housing facilities are inadequate and unsafe.

Narrative: 

Some remote duty stations lack services, such as, no cell phone or internet access.  Population in these communities is low to non-existent and crime rates at these stations are high.  Employees at remote locations are unsupervised, and there are no schools in the area for families to send their children to.  There is a lack of funding for upkeep resulting in poor conditions and a lack of security at many duty stations.  Stations that run on generators are left with zero services when generators expire.  Facilities are unappealing and unsafe, they are in disrepair, and some of them do not meet health and safety codes.  The conditions of these facilities create a work environment that lowers morale and creates an unsafe workplace.

Short term recommendations -

·         Revive the regional fire facilities committee.

·         Conduct a fire facilities “survey” at the local level and consolidate results regionally.  This survey should include a written condition and needs statement, pictures, and other supporting documentation. 

·         Develop an action plan to address these issues.

·         Regional Forester should work with Line and Field employees in order to prioritize allocation of funds to focus on the fire facilities issue.

·         Review the national fire facilities maintenance document to build a stand-alone fire facilities maintenance program.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Ensure that the regional fire facilities committee remains active and reports directly to the Board of Directors (BoD).

·         Ensure that fire facilities are fully funded.

·         Study the amount of revenue that fire is investing into fire facilities that do not produce a return on investment.

·         Remove fire facilities from the current model and provide a stand-alone regional fire facilities maintenance program.

·         Review Executive Order 13327, Appendix 1, located in the R5 facilities management plan, to explore partnership options to assist with fire facilities funding.

 

Issue 2:  Equipment is old and in disrepair.

Narrative: 

Inadequate gear at the station creates a perception at the module level, that there is no available funding to procure and replace equipment needed to perform their jobs safely.  This equipment includes hand tools, saws, SCBAs, line gear, etc.

Short term recommendations -

·         Forest Fire Chiefs should work with module leaders to provide information on the budget allocation process of equipment replacement.

·         Task the R5 fire budget allocation committee to revisit replacement costs for fire shelters, SCBAs, turnout, line gear, etc.

·         Supervisors and employees must ensure crew members have equipment that will allow them to perform their jobs safely.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Plan for and request funding necessary to fully fund all program areas.

·         Identify and secure replacement funding.

·         Explore partnership options to assist with fire equipment replacement.

 

 

Issue 3: There is a lack of computer and IT support.

Narrative: 

There is a lack of connectivity speeds for employees to perform their administrative work.  There is little to no support for IT issues and no on-site assistance.  There is a lack of technical support for communications systems.

 

Short term recommendations -

·         Return IT support positions to the local level.

·         Provide high speed internet access to all facilities.

·         Conduct a survey within Region 5 to identify communication deficiencies.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Prioritize sites from the survey for funding.

·         Plan and fund the modernization of all communications systems making field application requirements a priority.

·         Develop a plan of action to address communication deficiencies.

 

Common Thematic Area - 5:  Home - Work Life Balance

“One thing the Forest Service does a poor job of is support for female employees who have children, getting them back into the job workforce.  It’s something we don’t do.  It’s a rare opportunity when an office has daycare…for either a single mother or a family struggling on two incomes on this pay…People have to make decisions, economic decisions whether or not they can remain working for the Forest Service.”

 

“There has to be some incentive to put up with what we put up with in California…we have a very complex environment in terms of all risk incidents, the politics of it, the huge numbers of people we deal with.  It’s a much more stressful place to work, and there has to be a reason to choose to work here…”

 

“The Forest Service used to be known as a family culture.  We have gotten away from that in a lot of ways…I think we are very disconnected right now as an organization.  It’s not like it was…the cultural change and shift has been changed by complexity of the day and age we are in.”

 

Issue 1:  It is difficult for fire employees to maintain a healthy home/work life balance.

Narrative: 

Employees are having a difficult time balancing their work and personal lives (e.g., driving long distances, remote locations, dual careers, pregnancies, daycare, etc.)  Some employees have had to make hard choices to achieve this balance.  Employees are unaware of resources available to improve home/work life balance. 

Short term recommendations -

·         Research tour of duty options to understand intermittent status.

·         Explore job share opportunities to see if we can allow Forests to job share positions.

·         Support flexible work schedules for employees to meet home/work life balance.

·         Educate employees on the resources available to them.

·         Empower fire leaders to make decisions on opportunities to support home/work life balance. 

·         As a regional priority, the FWE Planning Committee will partner with the Regional Leadership Team to address issues regarding Healthy Workforce, Healthy Workplace.

 

Long term recommendations

·         Develop job share opportunities within local forests.

·         Based on outcomes from tour of duty research; develop options for employees.

·         As a regional priority, the FWE Planning Committee will partner with the Regional Leadership Team to address issues regarding Healthy Workforce, Healthy Workplace.

·         Consider a fully funded family support position to assist employees with home/work life balance.

 

Common Thematic Area - 6: Training and Development

“Provide training and help people see ahead.  Not just training for what they are right now, but to see the potential in people and to help them figure out what to do to become the next thing.”

 

“Career development is just not there…the development phase just stops if you are not in suppression full-time.”

 

“My primary position isn’t in fire so there is a lot of convincing to be done with management as to why I should get these trainings.”

 

“There is no career ladder whatsoever...”

 

“…So a lot of times ground resources will get priority for certain training classes because they have division supervisor required in their PD…It’s not in my PD, so I am unable to get into those training opportunities.”

 

“…we are told that there isn’t any funding to attend the training.  Yet when the fire breaks out, we are expected to respond.”

 

“…we’re going to get ourselves in trouble when we are promoting people too quickly or moving people too quick up the ladder and they are not properly qualified or trained in that position.”

 

Issue 1: Many employees expressed concern with training and development.

Narrative: 

Staffing requirements limit training and development unless the task book is related to their current position excluding future career changes.  Classes that are required for advancement, but only offered once per year create a bottleneck, slowing employee development.  Additional complications will arise with the implementation of Forest Service –Fire Program Management (FS-FPM) standards.  We are already seeing the effects of the implementation of the Interagency Fire Program Management (IFPM) standards with a reduced candidate pool.  The travel cap has limited our ability to meet the nationally established timeframe for conversion to FS-FPM.  This will have unintended consequences by limiting an employee’s ability to obtain certain training (classes), field opportunities, and developmental training, in support of workforce succession planning.  Lack of qualified personnel will have the outcome of affecting our initial attack capability, resource management for prescribed fire, large fire support, and increase the total cost of fire management program operations.    

Short term recommendations -

·         For courses that are offered infrequently, pursue and offer other venues to obtain training. 

·         Explore alternative methods for delivering training: VTC, webinars, mobile training teams.

·         Utilize barracks at training centers to reduce costs. 

·         Continue to share local training opportunities among forests. 

·         Create a regional business practice to place as many federal trainees as possible on incidents.

·         Create a regional strategy to get everyone through FS-FPM.

·         Explore options to freeze FS-FPM implementation.

·         Establish a regional policy for Forest Service incidents that requires all Administratively Determined (ADs) and local government personnel to have a federal trainee.

·         Pursue relief from the travel cap for fire training and development.

 

Long term recommendations -

·         Accept the Interagency Fire and Aviation Qualifications Guide (310-1) without additional supplements, and work with other regions to accept this nationally in lieu of FSH 5109.17 and Forest Service Fire and Aviation Qualifications Guide.

·         We need to strategize and implement a plan to maintain currency for employees to meet FS-FPM qualifications.

·         Abolish FS-FPM.

 

Issue 2:  National Incident Management System position competencies and qualifications are not viewed equally.  This limits the ability for advancement and for employees to move within and into other functional areas. 

Narrative: 

There are limited opportunities to crosswalk for development in aviation, fuels, dispatch, and prevention careers.  Employees experience barriers because they must obtain fire line and specialized qualifications in their field to promote or progress into another functional area.  There is no current mechanism for recognizing equivalencies between these functional areas.

Short term recommendations -

·         Discuss career development issues concerning Aviation, Dispatch, Fuels, and Prevention within the Board of Director’s (BOD).  Have subject-matter experts present and articulate issues within these areas. 

·         Review job position descriptions that allow individuals to perform fire suppression duties that encompass all aspects of Fire Aviation Management (Fire Suppression Specialist Position Description).

·         Revisit the aviation crosswalk proposal at a face-to-face BOD meeting.  Bring in aviation experts to explain the issues within this functional area. 

 

Long term recommendation -

·         Develop a national competency crosswalk for all functional areas.

 

Conclusion:

These facilitated sessions provided an opportunity for employees to engage in open and candid discussions regarding Fire work environment issues.  There is a perception that Region 5 has special challenges when it comes to treating minorities and women with respect, as well as hiring and retention in the Region, and that these issues may exist predominately in the fire organization.  Feedback from the Fire Focus Groups and the online survey did not fully support this assumption.  It should be noted that considering the abundance of feedback from all areas of the fire workforce, there was no suggestion or comments indicating the existence of widespread problems with treating minorities and women with respect.  There were however, feelings of disrespect among the non-suppression disciplines such as prevention, fuels, and dispatch for their role within the fire organization.  There were also some inequities and disparate treatment cited in such things as task books and training opportunities, but there were also numerous positives that came to light; some that were inherent in the work such as working outdoors, exciting assignment(s), no two days are the same, etc.

Region 5 employees are very dedicated and passionate about their work and are willing to contribute to a healthy and inclusive work environment.  Fire concerns were raised throughout the Focus Groups that this document will be just another report to sit on a shelf and recommendations from this report would not be implemented.  Our employees recognize that maintaining a healthy work environment requires strong leadership and that leadership is a shared responsibility – they would like to be part of the solution rather than be part of the problem.  Their feedback is crucial to the design and implementation of business practices for the future that will result in a more inclusive work environment for all fire employees in Region 5. 

The Forest Service in California has always been a leader in innovation and the use of new technologies and best practices. This forward- thinking approach is nowhere better reflected than in Fire and Aviation Management.   From the equipment that we use (San Dimas Tech Center) and the science that guides our decisions (PSW), ours is a world class conservation and fire management organization. The methods and tools that we use have evolved to correspond to the complex management of 20 million acres of national forest lands set in the most populous state.

It was in this spirit that we received strong feedback from our employees regarding the Fire Work Environment in Region 5.  It was a reminder that what drives this organization and continues to make us effective are not just these new technologies but rather our people and their ability to adapt and change to the demands of their jobs and increasingly complex units.  Our employees would like us to move forward as a professional, continuous improvement organization— one in which we are grounded in safety and the way we treat one another. We believe this feedback was important and that the recommendations are largely achievable. Careful consideration and implementation of these ideas would help ensure the continued role of the Pacific Southwest Region as a leader within the agency, department and federal government.