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FOREST SERVICE SEMINAR BERATED; CONGRESSMAN SAYS MOTIVATIONAL ENCOUNTER IS WASTE OF MONEY.

Byline: Ann Bancroft Associated Press

The U.S. Forest Service in California, once a hidebound, male-dominated agency devoted primarily to cutting and selling timber, is preparing to explore alternative realities.

Employees are getting ready for a three-day motivational seminar with declarations that ``everyone's truth is truth'' and that decisions should be made ``as if the future were now.''

The seminar, planned for Nov. 18-20 at a cost of about $500,000, is billed by the chief of the service's Pacific Southwest Region as an opportunity for the region's 4,463 employees to encourage positive change. It is to be held at Cal Expo, the state fairgrounds in Sacramento.

In the view of U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, the event is an expensive encounter group and a waste of money in an agency that has reduced its staff by more than 1,200 because of budget cuts in the past five years.

``At a time when Forest Service land is a fire hazard choked with dead and dying trees, the timber sale program is at a virtual standstill and we're laying off employees, how the Forest Service can justify ... half a million or more dollars for this sort of thing boggles the mind,'' Herger said in a telephone interview.

About 700 employees are expected to attend the seminar, according to Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Forest Service's Region 5, based in San Francisco. He said region chief Lynn Sprague is also considering video links to the offices of 4,000 employees who can't make it in person.

In an internal memo to all Region 5 employees, Sprague explained the purpose of the seminar and asked for support.

``Many of you wonder how we can afford to spend limited financial resources on such an event when we are facing downsizing and declining budgets,'' Sprague wrote.

``I am not asking you to trade on-the-ground project dollars for a one-time `feel good' or reorganizational session. I am asking you to think about the possibilities that could come from an honest assessment of our productivity and the many polarizing internal and external issues we are facing.''

Sponsored by Global Visions, a Sacramento-based consulting firm, the conference will be based on concepts in a book called ``Real Time Strategic Change,'' written by Robert W. Jacobs.

Leslie DePol, a Global Visions partner, would not comment on the Forest Service event. ``My policy is not to discuss projects I'm working on'' for a client, DePol said.

Mathes said the Jacobs approach has been used at the Ford Motor Co., the Marriott Corp. and major hospital associations.

The seminar will ``move us toward our full potential as natural resource management leaders,'' Sprague claimed in a memo.

Included with the memo are examples of definitions by Jacobs, such as:

``Real time: Simultaneous discovery, planning and implementation of individual, group and organizationwide changes. Decisions and actions are taken as if the future were now, in effect, blurring the line between here and there.''

``Reality is a key driver: A change-effort focus in place of event-centric thinking and action. Events may be necessary, but are not sufficient to bring about sustainable transformation.''

``Build and maintain a common database: Integrating diverse perspectives via dialogue leads to common understanding. Everyone's truth is truth. Alternative realities are OK.''

Herger spokesman Steve Thompson complained the seminar paperwork was gobbledygook.

After Herger made his complaints public, a second memo was sent to Region 5 employees, telling them not to comment if reporters called and asked questions about the event.

``They want to give the right line to the media,'' groused Bob Grate of rural Chester, a 25-year-Forest Service firefighter who retired last May.

Grate described himself as a spokesman for a large group of disgruntled Forest Service employees and retirees who believe activities like the seminar are ``an embarrassment.''
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 9, 1997
Words:633
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