My last days with the Forest Service

48        My time with Forest Service has been an adventure. I spent the first two months as a part-time employee in the summer of 1990 and enjoyed wandering around remote locations on the Sylamore District, then spent three years there, ventured to South Carolina for 18 months, spent eight years in Louisiana and wrapped up my career in the regional office in Atlanta. The wrapping up had proved to be a little difficult, something I would want to go through in, but something that was not extremely unpleasant. As mentioned above, my job in Atlanta had slowly evaporated and several of us felt like government downsizing might result in us losing our jobs or, more likely, being relocated.

49        I had attempted to move out of the plan including my four-month detail to Illinois. I had applied for jobs in Cedar City, Utah, Silver City, New Mexico, and Alturas, California but each time a new position open out west it has become more and more obvious that Sheila had no desire to move unless we were returning to Arkansas. The regional botanist and retired and I have applied for his job and served as an acting regional botanist in that position for four months by which time I have made it obvious that I was not too thrilled about position. I would love to have been a regional botanist but the job involved more than that and ultimately I had no desire to have one job that required me to be four people, regional botanist, regional non-native invasive species specialist, regional range program manager, and regional ecologist.

On the road again, not!

50        The Forest Service has been talking about doing, "more with less" although they eventually back down to, "doing less with less." Many people in the agency had come to feel they were expected to do the jobs of three or four people. By serving in that position for four months I realized I would be away from home for about one fourth of the time. I would be required to attend national meetings of regional botanists, non-native species specialists, range program managers, and ecologists. Indeed, I had attended all of those national meetings at one time or another during my career with the agency. In addition to those four weeks on the road I would've attended two to three weeks of training, spent an average of one to three weeks working on wildfires, and attended other occasional meetings with the agency.

51        I certainly enjoyed much of my travel with the agency as I thought back over the 20 years that Sheila and I have been married I realized I had been out of town for five of those years. I spent two years in Fayetteville working on my master’s degree soon after we got married, a year and a half on fire details in 17 states, and at least a year and a half traveling with the Forest Service to meetings, training sessions, on work details, and for other reasons. In fact, five years is probably an underestimate since I spent nine months away from home, in total, on work details in North Carolina, Arkansas, and Illinois. While I love to fly I have developed strong distrust and dislike for the airlines. The idea of staying home for a change in traveling at my own expense to places I chose to go to sounded more like fun.

52        In fact, since I retired I spend very little time away from home and when I have traveled Sheila and I traveled together. Also, I have come to see at least some of the expense involved in government travel is a waste of my taxpayer money. In many ways it was beneficial but at times I found the expenses involved both unnecessary and extravagant. The regional ecologist’s meeting particularly galled me. One would think ecologists would be sensitive to the environment, perhaps as individuals we were. The nine regional ecologists along with their national counterpart and several other people who attended the meetings would end up in fancy resort hotels in Sedona and Tucson, Arizona in the two years I attended their meetings.

53        “We don't want to have our meetings during the field season," was part of the justification for meeting Arizona, "and it is too cold in the winter in most regions and too expensive to go east,” east being to one of the agencies to eastern regions. To me, that was not justification for staying in resort hotel at $115 a night when many cities would have been glad to host us at much lower prices, perhaps $60 or $70 a night. The price of the rooms did include a meeting room which was some justification for a higher price but many small communities away from resort areas within glad to host our meetings at much lower prices

Life in cubicle land

54        Don't get me wrong, I was glad to have a high-paying job and nice accommodations when traveling. But I would compare it with today's modern banking world. The federal credit union I used in Atlanta for the local bank I use here in Mountain Home are more like banks I saw a child, somewhat spacious and clean facilities but not extravagant. Today, bankers, doctors, and lawyers in large cities have come to flaunt their wealth. Walking in some banks and doctor’s offices has made me feel like they waste my money. One dental office I went to in Georgia have beautiful waterfall inside. One local bank has an open area in the middle large enough to play a game of tennis. These facilities might be acceptable in an underpopulated world with plenty of food for everyone. But that's not my world. One does not have to look far to find poverty on the planet and I refuse to blame it poverty on the people who experience it. I blame it on the bankers, doctors, lawyers, and ecologists and former government employees like myself; we all share ownership in the blame.

 55        I was so disgusted with my supervisor I decided to make a point and retire without telling him. It's not like he had no indication of my plans to retire. "You're too young to retire," he told me at one of our last performance reviews. I informed him of reality but it was several months before I actually retired. At the end of my career I found myself legitimately using sick leave to get weekly allergy shot that have improved my life considerably, using my vacation time to allow me to move our household goods Arkansas, and enjoying the frequent federal holidays away from work. “Federal employees don't work two months of the year," I would tell my friends. I'd reached the point in my career where I received four weeks of vacation time here is the standard two weeks of sick leave. You could add 12 more federal holidays and make a solid two months out of the year that federal employees do not work. Personally, I think all companies should be forced to provide such benefits. As I said when I lived in Atlanta, I'm not in charge of everything.

56        So, there you have it. Between May of 2007 and February 2008 I interviewed our house one truck load time and let cubicle land behind forever. I was glad to leave the uncertainty of constant rumors in the regional office. Would there be a government shutdown? Were they do away with the regional office? Would I get a job in Illinois working for the agency? Why have to put up with the stupid computerized work application system the agency developed? Do I care? Not now. It's not that I agree with government waste and abuse, I've seen plenty of that on the Savannah River Site where most people have the attitude of, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." I saw a regional office that fought for its own existence to keep its own existence.

57        "We have to cut timber because that's what pays our salaries," one of my supervisors had told me with the agency. I didn't support that philosophy and was glad to leave it behind. The agency had treated me well but I've seen it from the inside and knew that no agency was perfect especially when the government funding involved. I'm thankful for the opportunity and the fact that I have the same healthcare options and costs as someone named Obama. But working for the government has turned into what the Republicans call a socialist. I believe everyone should have equal access to those same healthcare plans as well as the same government support. Congress and government employees like them all have the same options when it comes to health care and retirement. But I'll save that topic for another day.