For the week of February 10, 1999  thru February 16, 1999  

Forest Service slashes high-end jobs

Cuts to fuel discretionary funds


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

One hundred forty-five jobs have been eliminated, or are scheduled for elimination, on the Sawtooth, Boise and Payette national forests as a result of the U.S. Forest Service’s effort to improve efficiency through reorganization.

The reductions were announced simultaneously by the three forest supervisors Bill LeVere, Dave Rittenhouse and Dave Alexander.

"In May of 1998 we identified the need to reduce the size and redesign the organization’s structure and increase the efficiency of current administrative sites," the supervisors said in a joint statement released to Forest Service employees on Monday. "Since that time, we have been working with employees and others to identify a level of staffing on these three national forests that will enable us to operate within current and predicted budget trends."

From September 1996 through August 1997, 68 permanent jobs were eliminated on the three National Forests, primarily through attrition, according to a Forest Service press release.

"We plan on reducing the remaining 77 positions in the same manner," the supervisors said. "However, it may be necessary for some employees to move or do different work. We anticipate that full implementation will take place over a two-year period. However, the rate of change will vary as opportunities arise."

There are currently 740 positions on the three national forests. By September 2000, 39 positions will have been eliminated from the Sawtooth National Forest, 41 from the Payette National Forest and 65 from the Boise National Forest, according to the press release.

The total annual savings to be realized by the cutbacks is estimated to be $6.9 million. The money will be used to fund on-the-ground project work, the press release states.

Employees on each of the three national forests were provided with the results of an organization study on Monday, according to the press release.

"What employees (received on Monday) is information showing what positions are affected by these reductions," the supervisors said. "We will now initiate the process described in the master agreement between the Forest Service and the employees’ union to identify affected individuals."

Discussions with employees will take place over the next several weeks regarding the new organization and the ramifications it may have on positions. Forest supervisors anticipate that some components of the new organization can be implemented immediately, whereas others may have to be delayed until positions are vacated.

The need for the reorganization has been brought about by decreases in certain key funding areas due to reductions in timber offered for sale and changes in the Forest Service internal budget process. Cost-of-living increases in employee salaries and an increase of 65 percent in administrative site rents and utilities in the last five years are listed as primary reasons for the reorganization.

Sawtooth National Forest supervisor Bill LeVere said 20 full-time positions on the Sawtooth National Forest have been eliminated over the last two years.

"Our current plans include the process of eliminating another 25 full-time positions this fiscal year," LeVere said. "We plan to fully accomplish (the elimination of all the scheduled-for-termination positions) by August 2002."

LeVere said his goal is to reduce costs by eliminating higher paying positions.

"We estimate that this will increase our discretionary funds to the tune of $2 million per year for funding more projects and people at the on-the-ground level, LeVere said. "When you compare the amount of funding that went to the ground level last year over what is taking place this year, there is $1 million more getting to the ground this year. We consider this a very positive result of our reorganization efforts to date."

Discussions in May 1998 also centered around the possibility of combining the management of the Fairfield and Ketchum Ranger Districts, which would have resulted in the closure of the Forest Service office in Fairfield. However, the decision has been made to not close this office. In addition, since 1996 the Twin Falls and Burley ranger districts have been managed by the Burley district ranger. This was done to test the feasibility of joint management of these two units.

"This has worked out very well, so we have made the decision to permanently consolidate the management of these two districts," LeVere said. "Both of these units will now be managed by the district ranger in Burley."

"Our effort at reducing costs is not ending with these personnel cutbacks," LeVere added. "We continue to look for ways to further reduce costs in the area of vehicles and office rents. The Forest Service is part of a much larger federal government picture that is seeking to reduce costs and balance the budget. In the last five to six years, more than 300,000 federal jobs have been cut."

 

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