DorobekINSDIER: The Forest Service ostensibly tells the public not to comment

Hey there. I’m Christopher Dorobek — the DorobekINSIDER — and welcome GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER… where we focus on six words: Helping government do its job better.

On GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER:

  • A New Kind of Contracting?: For a little background, the IT Acquisition Advisory Council (ITAAC) is a public/private partnership of public interest groups, involved citizens, private sector sponsors and government partners. Members of the ITAAC website work together to create positive growth and change for information technology reform to keep up with the demands of the face-paced, technology-drive 21st century.  In the new report, Weiler argues that the importance of IT reform was that the success of every major national security program is dependent upon efficient and effective information technology usage.  “Today, IT is the Achilles of the Defense Department,” Weiler said. “It has shown up in over 40 different reports as being a serious threat to the operation if not fixed. And it’s a $20 billion-a-year problem.”

Up front: The Forest Service ostensibly tells the public not to comment

Soliciting public comment is a challenge. There are some topics that just attract the public’s attention — building a Death Star or making marijuana legal… or the FCC’s net neutrality proposal, which has received some 1 million comments.

The U.S. Forest Service is getting taking heat for forcing the media to pay for a permit and get permission before shooting a photo or video in federally designated wilderness areas.

From The Orgonian: Forest Service says media needs photography permit in wilderness areas, alarming First Amendment advocates

Under rules being finalized in November, a reporter who met a biologist, wildlife advocate or whistleblower alleging neglect in 36 million acres of wilderness would first need special approval to shoot photos or videos even on an iPhone.

Personally, I find the rule reprehensible — what is “media” these days anyway? And nearly as bad is the defense of the rule by Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, who comes off as arrogant — rather than using this as an opportunity to build the Forest Service and public service, she falls back on specious statements.

“It’s not a problem, it’s a responsibility,” she said. “We have to follow the statutory requirements.”

US_Forest_ServiceThe rule is gaining more attention. Esquire wrote about it under the headline: The U.S. Forest Service Wants to Fine You $1,000 for Taking Pictures in the Forest.

And it is more than ironic that the Forest Service Web page features a contest to take photos and ‘share the experience.’

But the teachable moment for all agencies is the notice seeking comments posted in the Federal Register earlier this month. Here is the summary:

The Forest Service proposes to incorporate interim directive (ID) 2709.11-2013.1 into Forest Service Handbook (FSH) 2709.11, chapter 40 to make permanent guidance for the evaluation of proposals for still photography and commercial filming on National Forest System Lands. The proposed amendment would address the establishment of consistent national criteria to evaluate requests for special use permits on National Forest System (NFS) lands. Specifically, this policy provides the criteria used to evaluate request for special use permits related to still photography and commercial filming in congressionally designated wilderness areas. Public comment is invited and will be considered in the development of the final directive.

I know what each of those words mean individually. Together, to quote a John Oliver joke, it just seems like they put a dictionary in the washing machine that this was the result. It is a bureaucratic mess that hides what they want to do.

In fact, in the Federal Register notice under the section labeled “background and need for proposed directive,” the Forest Service says:

The proposed directive is necessary for the Forest Service to issue and administer special use authorizations that will allow the public to use and occupy National Forest System (NFS) lands for still photography and commercial filming in wilderness. The proposed directive FSH 2709.11, chapter 40, is currently issued as the third consecutive interim directive (ID) which is set to expire in October 2014. The previous directive addressed still photography in wilderness and did not provide adequate guidance to review commercial filming in wilderness permit proposals. The notice and comments are collected and used by Forest Service officials, unless otherwise noted, to ensure the use of NFS lands are authorized, in the public interest, and compatible with the Agency’s mission and/or record authorization of use granted by appropriate Forest Service officials.

I get the restrictions on agencies and government organizations. But I don’t think any of the rules push this, which seems to define nonsense. The Forest Service essentially decided to make the fine print the heart of its post.

There were a number of missed opportunities… to describe the situation… to describe the solution…

But the most distressing part of this is the sense that ‘I have the answers and I don’t really care what you think.’

This is treating public comments as an afterthought… as a requirement… not as an opportunity to help the government do its job better.

Rather than a request for comment… this seems like a request for NO comment.

NOTE: The Forest Service late in the day issued a release: US Forest Service Chief: I will ensure the First Amendment is upheld under agency commercial filming directives. Unfortunately if they actually used public comments to seek comments, they may have not ended up in this kind of position where they are having to defend the First Amendment.

Photo credit: Flickr user rwarrin 

The DorobekINSIDER #MustRead list:

  • Ex-GSA Executive Jeff Neely Indicted for Fraud [Government Executive] Jeff Neely, the General Services Administration executive viewed as the ringleader of the lavish spending on a 2010 training conference in Las Vegas, was indicted on five counts of fraud on Thursday by a federal grand jury in San Francisco.  The 59-year-old former head of region nine of the Public Building Service faces charges of making fraudulent reimbursement claims and false statements, according to an announcement from United States Attorney Melinda Haag of Northern California and GSA Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge David House.   Neely is “alleged to have fraudulently sought reimbursement for personal travel and expenses—incurred in Las Vegas, Nev.; Long Beach, Calif.; Guam; and Saipan—by submitting false and fraudulent claims to the United States,” the announcement said. “The indictment further alleges that, when GSA employees questioned him about these expenses, Neely falsely represented that the costs were incurred for official government business.”
  • Eric Holder To Step Down As Attorney General [NPR] Eric Holder Jr., the nation’s first black U.S. attorney general, is preparing to announce his resignation Thursday after a tumultuous tenure marked by civil rights advances, national security threats, reforms to the criminal justice system and five and a half years of fights with Republicans in Congress.  Two sources familiar with the decision tell NPR that Holder, 63, intends to leave the Justice Department as soon as his successor is confirmed, a process that could run through 2014 and even into next year. A former U.S. government official says Holder has been increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon for fear he otherwise could be locked in to stay for much of the rest of President Obama’s second term.
  • New ‘Bash’ software bug may pose bigger threat than ‘Heartbleed’ [Reuters]
    1. US-CERT on BASH
    2. Security Experts Expect Shellshock Software Bug to Be Significant [The New York Times]
    3. The Bash Bug: What you need to know about the latest security flaw [Vox]
  • Why the Secret Service Blew It [Marc Ambinder, an editor at The Week, The Atlantic and GQ via Politico] Sure, blame the folks on duty when the knife-wielding man who jumped the White House fence. But let’s not forget the dysfunction that got us here. Some press critics blame them  for not asking Congress for more money. That’s a simplistic view.
  • Hagel’s Right-Hand Man on Acquisition Reform [DefenseOne]  Frank Kendall’s close relationship with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has helped elevate his plans for acquisition reform.
    1. The money quote: For nearly a year, Kendall has been outspoken on the subject of the Pentagon’s eroding technological edge. He has, at times, made controversial comments, such as how China’s increased military spending and investment in stealth fighter jets, hypersonic weapons and anti-ship missiles could threaten long-standing U.S. military superiority. “Technological superiority is not assured and we cannot be complacent about our posture,” Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee in January.
  • Obama at U.N. pledges steps to more open government [Reuters] President Barack Obama pledged on Wednesday that the United States would provide easier access to federal spending information, part of a global effort to create more open governments.  Governments that are responsive, transparent and accountable lead to prosperity and opportunity and discourage corruption, Obama said at a meeting of the Open Government Partnership, a group of 64 nations meeting at the United Nations General Assembly.  The U.S. government will launch an improved USAspending.gov website next year that will provide better access to see how taxpayer money is spent, he said.  The government also will improve accessibility to federal financial data, boost digital services at federal agencies and strengthen patient privacy in the health care system, he said.
  • Postal Service seeks to extend grocery deliveries [The Wall Street Journal] The U.S. Postal Service wants to deliver more groceries for Amazon.com Inc., and potentially for other retailers.  The agency sought approval Tuesday for a two-year test of the plan in multiple metropolitan areas, beginning as soon as Oct. 24.  The Postal Service has been conducting a 60-day trial with Amazon in San Francisco, where it is delivering prepacked groceries early in the morning; that program is due to end in mid-October.
  • GAO decides one of first protests based on FedRAMP compliance [Federal News Radio]

The DorobekINSIDER water cooler fodder

Before we finish up… a few items from the DorobekINSIDER water-cooler fodder… yes, we’re trying to help you make your water-cooler time better too…

  • Learning from America’s Data Agency [GovLoop – an excerpt from The GovLoop Guide: Capitalizing on the Open Data Revolution]: Case study on how NOAA collects more than 20 terabytes of data per day, nearly twice that of the entire printed collection of the Library of Congress.
  • What Business Can Learn From Intelligence [The Wall Street Journal oped by Thomas H. Davenport is a Distinguished Professor at Babson College, a Research Fellow at the Center for Digital Business, Director of Research at the International Institute for Analytics, and a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Analytics] there is little doubt that the intelligence sector in the U.S. (including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, parts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security, and many other agencies) and elsewhere is quite accomplished at several aspects of data management and analytics. It’s also clear that businesses can learn from these organizations in several respects.   Focus on intelligence about the external environment; Use “sigint” as well as “humint”; Invest in technical infrastructure; Try to eliminate silos; Identify the key entities on which you want to collect intelligence; Work closely with your ecosystem partners, but monitor security
  • Shedding Light on Hidden Bias at Google [The New York Times] Google, like many tech companies, is a man’s world, Farhad Manjoo reports. Started by a pair of men, its executive team is overwhelmingly male, and its work force is dominated by men. Over all, seven out of 10 people who work at Google are male. Men make up 83 percent of Google’s engineering employees and 79 percent of its managers. In a report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last year, Google said that of its 36 executives and top-ranking managers, just three are women. Google’s leaders say they are unhappy about the firm’s poor gender diversity, and about the severe underrepresentation of blacks and Hispanics among its workforce.

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