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Ex-Employees Want ‘Incompetent’ Forest Service Executive Fired

Letter claims the investigative chief fostered an environment of 'all-consuming chaos, fear, stress, defeat, anger … [and] retaliation.'

A group of public environmental employees wants the director of the Forest Service’s Law Enforcement and Investigations program fired for “incompetence” and for leading a program “in a state of crisis.” The Forest Service so far does not appear to agree.

The nonprofit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday went public with a letter signed by 52 veterans of the investigations program calling on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to “intervene to end a culture of negative leadership” by reassigning David Ferrell, the investigative program’s director. USDA is the Forest Service’s parent agency.

The letter includes an analysis of “how Mr. Ferrell lacks every one of the Executive Core Qualifications required by the Office of Personnel Management to remain in his current Senior Executive Service position.”

Ferrell, a Job Corps veteran, supervises 650 officers in the enforcement and investigations program, according to a USDA profile. He has reportedly presided over a 15 percent budget cut in the past year.

According to the retirees’ complaint, the program staff suffers from “all-consuming chaos, fear, stress, defeat, anger, isolation, retaliation, learned helplessness, and anxiety [leaving] an entire workforce with a broken spirit.” They charge that Ferrell has a “weak technical background in law enforcement and budgeting, and extreme risk aversion,” which have “combined to drag this program to a crawl.”

Ferrell himself is cited as the reason that many of the employees transferred or retired. Eighty percent of program employees told a survey team they had lost confidence and respect, the letter said.

The PEER organization said the retirees addressed Vilsack after their demands were rejected by Forest Service chief Thomas Tidwell following an April 11 “all-hands meeting” on the problem.

Asked for comment, Forest Service acting communications director Erin O’Connor told Government Executive, “The Forest Service is committed to ensuring employees across the agency are well-served by their leadership and have the support and guidance necessary to do their jobs. Agency leadership is always open to hearing from employees about their concerns and suggestions, and looking into issues that they bring up.”

(Image via Flickr user arsheffield)