Sunday, February 05, 2012

Government of the Government … For the Government

Agency Case Study
Grandest of Special Interests
Government of the Government … For the Government
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            It is frightening how thought can be manipulated. Most of us believed that right always prevails. Likewise, our way of life was founded on the premise that no government has the authority to reduce certain unalienable rights. Clearly, we were instructed to “throw off such government and to provide new guards for their (our) future security”.
            We have been told that special interests have created havoc in our system. The truth of the matter may well prove that the real special interest dilemma … is our government itself.
            Where is the Recession?
            During the last decade, private employment has increased one percent. The increase of federal employment has risen 15%. Most of the latter has come since the beginning of the current Recession in 2008.
            The Federal Government isn’t aware of any recessionary drag on the economy. Those employed in federal services that make over $100,000 per year doubled in the three years.
            At the beginning of 2008, one individual in the Department of Transportation made more than $170,000. At the end of fiscal year 2011, there were 1,690.
            The Department of Defense shows similar expansion. The growth mushroomed from 1,868 employees making in excess of $150,000 to 10,100.
            Perhaps those figures are acceptable until the average salaries of all Americans are considered. The average privately employed American now makes $61,051 per year in income and benefits. The average federal worker makes $123,049, similarly. So much for the suggestion that it is the private sector enjoy the greatest advantages.
            In 2011, the average American lost about 6.6% of his accumulated wealth. The average Congressional representative expanded his or her accumulated wealth a minimum of 15%.
            With those trends, those of us out in the hinterlands have no alternative but to believe that Washington is leading us only with good old Keynesian economics. Since it doesn’t matter where the money stimulus actually comes from, they have pledged their support for leading us to better times … by making themselves and their District the most affluent area in America.
            A Case Study
            One of the ravages of a once exemplary agency is the story of the Forest Service. Founded in 1881, the agency was managing 150 million acres of land by 1908. At the close of business that year, it had 1,500 employees.
            There is evidence the 1908 management concept was actually pegging agency employees to managed acres, or one permanent employee per 100,000 acres of managed lands. Such a thought process is foreign to the modern agency.
            The 2012 Forest Service budget indicates the agency now manages 193 million acres of land with 33,437 permanent employees. That would suggest the agency manages 5772 acres for each employee, but that does not include the army of seasonal employees.
            Founded on the mission “to secure favorable conditions of water flows and a continuous supply of timber for the citizens of the United States”, the agency no longer adheres to any such goal. Its budget shows the drift.
            Public news outlets showered praise on the agency for decades. In 1952, Newsweek published a story hailing the agency as “the only major government branch showing a cash profit”. 
A story line from 2012 should read, “The agency cannot generate 20% of its total budget in combined revenues”, and, in fact, the current budget of $5.31 billion is offset by only $1.01 billion in receipts. 
 “The 2012 budget summary clearly illustrates the intent of the agency’s management. In each of the last five years, the Forest Service has added 76,000 acres of private land to its 193 million acre ownership, and … made rangeland improvements on … 1,451 acres.”
            What is more telling is what has happened to the sources of income. Combined receipts from timber sales, grazing fees, and mineral leases from the new budget show (prior to DOI transfers) only $211 million. Closer scrutiny illustrates the foundational switch from intrinsic resource management (those resources that can be touched, moved, and transformed to productive pursuits) to extrinsic resource management (those resources that are conceptual, nebulous, and environmental).
 The change wasn’t necessarily statutorily driven. It was accomplished by mission creep, and … the implications of special interest collaboration.
            The Mission shift
            Study indicates the shift of policy accelerated in the ‘90s as a new generation of leaders arrived armed with undisguised historical industry bias. Environmentalism blossomed.
            On the heels of public outcry of Forest Service management of timber harvests, the new cadre of leaders orchestrated the elimination of 85% of the timber sales in a six year period. The clear cutting controversy was reduced, but it left many wondering where the expanding extrinsic resource management philosophy would be redirected. It was soon revealed.
            By 2000, the answer to no cows, no sheep, no timber harvests, the war on mineral extraction, and the mission toward wall to wall de facto wilderness management paved the way for the 21st Century wildfires. With billions of dollars of private property losses from the fires, a chastened Congress opened the spigots on funding and increased the agency’s budget by 38% in 2001 alone.
            A lesson was learned. The agency’s budget evolution exhibited the feedback. Rather than being taken apart for management blunders that created the problems, the agency learned that Congress was not about to stand in the hailstorm of public opinion. Congress was more than willing to throw money at anything that appeared to jeopardize the environment, and ‘oh, yes, the American public’.
            The agency stood ready to accept the challenge of the new era, and its best interest wasn’t based on any adherence to the original mission. The renewed direction was pure, unadulterated environmentalism.
            The measure of success
            The success of the effort suggests that the decisions made were fraught with the same mentality that created the problems. Ten years after the expanded elevation of fire management into higher levels of focus, the West was burning with added gusto.
            In 2011, Arizona recorded its first and third biggest and most destructive fires in the state’s history. Neighboring New Mexico experienced its biggest. The January to June time period that year resulted in the most prolific wildfire record in history. The results were not even close. The period exceeded the previous record by almost a million acres.
            The new King – Extrinsic Resources
            The 2012 budget clearly shows where the agency mission drift is going. Collaboration is growing with Big Green. Line items that include Watershed enhancement, Forest Legacy, America Great Outdoor Initiative, urban and community forestry, Legacy Roads and Trails, road decommissioning, and ‘Recreation, Heritage, Wilderness’ are getting support and budget increases.
Controversy from the drain of money in fire suppression is being camouflaged by moving some money to Integrated Resource Restoration (IRR).
The subcategories of IRR include Restoration and Management, Priority watershed rehab, Forest Landscape rehab, and legacy Roads and Trails. Where is fire suppression in such reclassification?
Fire is becoming restoration!
            Forest productivity programs are being cut … again and further.
            Shield erection
            Last month Secretary Vilsack announced the administration’s new National Forest System Land Management Rule. With the program, the Secretary and the Chief of the Forest Service are going to appoint a collaborative committee that establishes guidelines for agency programs.
            The selection process allows for the appointment of members with diverse backgrounds. The explanation is profound. Anyone that has no prior knowledge of the agency’s history would be impressed by the words.
            The standing committee will include “up to seven members” from each of three categories. The categories in simplistic terms are a) the public, b) the environmental community, and c) the universe of primary resource users.
Even if the full compliment of seven members are made in the latter groups, who believes there will be equal impact supporting those Americans who stand on the side of the original premises of the agency’s existence? Remember, the third component will be made up of political appointees from the public.
            This is a sham. It is a firewall being erected to further insulate the agency from its march toward an unrecognizable version of its original mission. Can’t Americans, who fund the $4.3 billion shortfall of this agency’s annual money pit, expect that its 33,437 employees could manage these lands in a manner that clings to any segment of the original intent?
            The Ultimate Special Interest
            The action of Secretary Vilsack and the Chief of the Forest Service is a learned process. It is an orchestrated strategy to affect a complete reversal from the mandate to manage resources that fuel our economy. It is the ultimate special interest hoax.
            Seeking political favor in the attempt to grow an agenda that will ultimately be rejected by the electorate poses a huge risk. It highlights another fascinating aspect of our present dilemma. Our country has a special interest problem alright, but the real problem isn’t what we have been told … it is our government itself.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher. “The 2012 budget summary clearly illustrates the intent of the agency’s management. In each of the last five years, the Forest Service has added 76,000 acres of private land to its 193 million acre ownership, and … made rangeland improvements on … 1,451 acres.”


Anonymous said...

YeHaw! Go get 'em! And, the only presidential candidate that has a clue is Ron Paul. Unfortunately, his time will just not happen.

Anonymous said...

Newt said we should give half of Nevada to the environmentalists and develop the other half for economic gain. Anybody out there in Newt's inner circle that can get to him and tell him he is an idiot, or better yet, engage his politician chamleon effect and adopt a more pro federal land constituency stance?