A group for Forest Service Public Affairs Officers, Specialists and Web Managers and designers to share ideas, information and resources.
How do we stem the downsizing of FS Public Affairs shops and downgrading of GS-1035 positions?
May 1, 2009 at 12:28 am #71151
I just returned from the national External Affairs Conference in D.C. I had discussions with several people who had either just undergone downsizing in their regional PAO shops and/or downgrading of positions. I had previously heard that many forests have either downgraded to GS-1035-12s or were contemplating the move.
Is this a signal that line officers don’t think they need experienced public affairs professionals or that they are luxury they can’t afford any longer with today’s budget constraints?
As a disclaimer, our Regon 10 shop just took a 55-60% cut in staff so that the regional office as a whole could make a 25% cut. I wound up with a chair when the music stopped, but a couple of friends had to find other work. Granted, the attrition was helped with two retirements, a “forced” transfer to forest PAO shop, a decision to drop two admin FTE, and pre-WRAPS reassignment to a budget position in our engineering staff, but we lost a lot of talent. What’s even worse is we lost the capacity to do work.
We had been able to meet the expectations of our customers, but now must create new expectations for the new, right-sized staffing level. We can’t only answer the phones when we have time. We can’t disregard correspondence. We can’t ignore queries from the public that come through our web-mail in box. We surely can’t ignore the media or congressional queries, and we definitely can’t ignore the RF and DRF when they need advice and counsel. Even though none of this work is proactive in nature, it just keeps on coming. That doesn’t count doing our own hiring (go AVUE and USAJobs), budget and purchasing, GovTrip and any other new administrative task or program that gets rolled out without adequate training or bench testing.
Must we be stripped down to the point that we can’t respond at all, or until there is an emergency that can’t be handled adequately, before leadership realizes that the program may be as “hollow” as a Russian matryoshka stacking doll?
Regional communications directors tried to tackle what they perceived as an identity crisis for public affairs a couple of years ago. If I remember correctly they tried to “re-brand” the program to gain some credibility. I’m not sure it worked.
Our dilemna as practicing public affairs professionals in the Forest Service is, “How do we stop the bleeding?”
May 1, 2009 at 2:04 pm #71157
John M. PyeParticipant
The agonies from downsized resources seem to be everywhere we look, as people struggle to accomplish their accustomed tasks despite fewer and fewer colleagues. It behooves all of us to pry free the time to examine our own contributions to our mission relative to those of others, and look for opportunities to “reengineer” our approaches. I agree that it would be dangerous in these times to increasingly divorce ourselves from our constituents. However, I am hearing the echoes of John Able’s recent comments about control of our message. Just as all employees have been increasingly asked to shoulder many administrative burdens, so too must we consider spreading the load of our communications with the public. We are fooling ourselves if we think we can tightly control our messages to the public, that’s just not going to be possible in a world with Facebook and Twitter and personal blogs. We have to find ways to help people find the answers they seek, sometimes through partnerships with other groups (think Google Maps for example), or directly by yarding up commonly asked questions and making sure our portal has the answers.
May 13, 2009 at 2:48 am #71155
How we stop the bleeding is through courageous innovation and patient working through the processes whether we like it or not. In our region (6) our shop took a 75% reduction 8 years ago, but that’s consistent with the downsizing regionwide.
We need to create value and relationships every day. And that’s hard work. And… “they don’t appreciate our services” is a concern that has been around 30 years. So how do we add value without sacrificing integrity or our own lives?
Always a good question.
Maybe we should play with our own value added discussion — “who are we, and what do we want our legacy to be?”
June 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm #71153
My 2-cents – – PAOs need to be assertive, confident and capable, and through their decisions, input, and actions show that they are valuable to the overall organizational structure.
As a profession, federal PAOs need to assert themselves professionally and be far more proactive in their jobs.
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