Example of the New Forest Service

by Bill Hay

U.S. Forest Service

For the past five years, the Forest Service has successfully followed a new vision for how it can do its work; small businesses within. If you go into a National Forest today, you might find Ron O'Hanlon of Vegetation Management Solutions enterprise evaluating harvest strategies in a proposed fuels reduction project. Cam Lockwood of Trails Unlimited enterprise might train a group of employees on trail location and construction considerations. Bill Hay and Merl Sturgeon of T.E.A.M.S enterprise might discuss with a District Ranger a check cruise they have just prepared. These Forest Service entrepreneurs own small businesses within the Forest Service. They contract with National Forests and other government agencies to provide their services at full cost recovery.

In October, Bill Hay and Merl Sturgeon sponsored a 3P and Variable Plot Workshop for the Forest Service at North Lake Tahoe. The Forest Service has developed new, more stringent sampling error standards for selling trees that won't meet sawlog specifications. Bill and Merl recognized that new Forest Service cruisers need training in the efficient methods for meeting these stringent standards. They partnered with the Pacific Southwest Forest Service Region Natural Resource Management Staff to host this workshop. Their enterprise, T.E.A.M.S, sponsored the tuition for all 35 class participants from the Pacific Southwest Region and set up the workshop. They donate a percentage of their net income to improve agency programs. The Pacific Southwest Region provided the logistical support for the field exercises and for the national cruise software. This partnership demonstrates one of the many benefits the Forest Service has received from these internal businesses. Let's take a closer look at T.E.A.M.S.

What is an enterprise in the Forest Service? 

An enterprise within the Forest Service is a group of Forest Service employees who operate like a business. They market their services to government clients while operating under the same rules as other Forest Service employees. Their fees cover all direct and indirect costs of operating their business. No appropriated money is given directly to an enterprise; they must cover all their costs through their bill rates. They operate on the free market principles of supply and demand. The Forest Service has provided them with the freedom to decide which work they will do and which they refuse. Each enterprise must show a positive net income and benefits to the Forest Service. Each enterprise presents an annual report and an updated business plan each year to the Enterprise Steering Committee, a committee made up of Forest Service line officers and key staff from participating Regions and the Washington Office. The Enterprise Steering Committee licenses and monitors enterprises.

How does T.E.A.M.S benefit the Forest Service? 

The Forest Service has downsized over the past decade and a half. National Forests generally have enough employees to do their normal workload. But, when they have an emergency such as a fire, windstorm or insect attack, they must look for outside help. Twenty years ago they had enough people to borrow from other Forest Service units. They don't have that ability now. They must hire more people, use contractors from outside of the Forest Service, or use an enterprise such as T.E.A.M.S. The line officer still decides whether they will hire, use a contractor or an internal enterprise. They have no obligation to use an internal enterprise. Some do use T.E.A.M.S. They like using an internal Forest Service enterprise because we understand their needs, we use a convenient internal work order as our contract, and we have a good reputation.

The Forest Service has many benefits from using an internal enterprise like T.E.A.M.S.: 

  • Choice - we provide an alternate choice for Forest Service units to obtain support and services. 

  • Financial Accountability - we receive no direct appropriated funds. We must financially sustain our enterprise from contracts with our clients. As such, we have a heightened awareness of costs, delivery of quality, and gains in efficiencies. 

  • Work with a Purpose - we do not work for profit like commercial businesses. We work for the purpose of contributing to the Forest Service Mission, and through our training and experience exercise a discriminating awareness of effectiveness and efficiencies. 

  • Spreading Cost Awareness - we frequently expose Forest Service units that utilize our services to how we recognize expenses and calculate rates of cost recovery used to estimate project costs. This begins the expansion of true cost recognition beyond the nucleolus of our enterprise.

What services does T.E.A.M.S offer? 

T.E.A.M.S offers turnkey project planning, implementation, and quality control services. Planning services include resource inventories, hydrology, wildlife, botany, soils, archeology, silviculture and other specialist's reports and writing documents that meet the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Implementation services include project layout, marking, cruising, appraisal, and contract preparation. Quality control services include check scaling, check cruising, log accountability audits, timber sale administration and stewardship contract administration. T.E.A.M.S provides these services individually or as a turnkey solution.

Who uses these services? 

T.E.A.M.S competes for work from any government agency. While we can compete with private industry for government work, we cannot compete with private industry for jobs in the private sector. T.E.A.M.S currently has projects with National Forests in all 9 Regions, Bureau of Land Management, State of Idaho Fish and Game, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.

How many Forest Service employees does T.E.A.M.S have and where are they? 

T.E.A.M.S has 95 permanent employees and about 50 temporary employees. Because we do not have the hiring flexibility of private companies, we contract one-third of our work to private companies and other enterprises. Contracting allows us workforce flexibility to respond to supply and demand forces of free enterprise.

Employees of T.E.A.M.S work from their offices throughout the United States. We do not move our employees into a single office because our employees travel to their projects. We leave our employees at the location where we hire them to save costs and to provide us with a larger job applicant pool. Our crews are on-the-road year long and don't need a central office. Our planning employees have an office near their home. We give each employee a laptop computer and a cell phone. We communicate at our client's offices, by conference calls, and using internet tools such as NetMeeting and email. We maintain employee accountability by using a system that compares planned work to accomplishment. We offer our employees autonomy, the satisfaction of having specific projects that they can complete, and responsibility for how they do the job. Price-Waterhouse-Cooper surveys have shown our employees enjoy working for T.E.A.M.S more than working at mainstream Forest Service positions.

Do we have examples of our work? 

On the Ouachita National Forest in 2002, we assisted the Tiak Ranger District to inventory standing trees on about 7,000 acres of newly acquired plantations. The district's small timber staff had little awareness of Global Positioning (GPS) to measure acreage. T.E.A.M.S finished the inventory on time and provided training to district personnel on GPS use. They were amazed by GPS technology and by the computer generated unit maps that we produced. They also appreciated the speed with which we completed the project. They contracted with us to produce additional timber sales in FY 03.

Overwhelmed with lands projects and oil and gas proposals that needed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) plans, the Medicine Bow National Forest asked T.E.A.M.S to provide wildlife and hydrology short-term assistance. The Forest had started the 9-12 month process to fill vacancies, but they needed to move forward with their projects in the interim. Marynell Oechsner, T.E.A.M.S wildlife biologist, provided wildlife reports for five lands projects. She also provided biological oversight to private contractors working on the Thunderhead Coal Bed Methane project. Alice Allen, T.E.A.M.S Interdisciplinary Team (IDT) Leader, led IDTs composed of specialists from the Forest, T.E.A.M.S and private contractors on several coal bed methane developments. She also provided a wildlife feasibility report for a 33,000 acre Wyoming State land exchange. Cavan Maloney, T.E.A.M.S hydrologist, provided hydrology reports and NEPA oversight on these projects. The Medicine Bow moved ahead with their projects despite critical personnel shortages. The Forest was so pleased with the products and personnel provided that they have signed a new contract with T.E.A.M.S.

What's ahead? 

The Forest Service will expand enterprises during 2004. Current Regions sponsoring enterprise units include Pacific Southwest, Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regions. As part of this expansion, T.E.A.M.S will offer franchise opportunities to Forest Service employees. Under the wing of a successful enterprise, new entrepreneurs will have the benefit of operating with a successful strategy and the security of a supporting organization. T.E.A.M.S truly represents a new Forest Service vision, a vision that makes the Government agency more effective and efficient.

Originally published October 2003

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