Letter from PCU 5/16/94

P.O. Box 27217
Washington, D.C. 20038
(202) 462-0757

May 16, 1994

Chief Jack Ward Thomas
Department of Agriculture
14th and Independence SW
Washington, D.C, 20250

Dear Mr. Thomas:

We appreciated the opportunity to attend the Town Meeting on Reinventing the Forest Service on May 11th. It was a pleasure to watch this preliminary toward finding a method of making "government ... work better, cost less, and be oriented towards customer service."

There was an obvious willingness to at least start talking about starting to talk about such important issues as what "the mission of the agency" should be, and ways to recreate a "basis of pride and accountability."

By emphasizing at the onset the agency's need "to listen," you clearly indicated appreciation of what many consider to be the major shortcoming in government.

In pursuit of a listening based policy, it may be important to insure that what you heard is what was actually said. An example of misunderstanding what was said is written on the bottom of the "What if We could Start Over?" flyer which the Service passed out as people left the meeting. According to the flyer, "At the Washington D.C. Meeting We Heard .... (t)he Forest Service needs to revisit it's policy on group gatherings in National Forests."

The only reference to "group gatherings in National Forests" at the Town Meeting occurred in the context of the agency's proposal to revisit the existing policy and transform the "right" of free assembly on public lands into a "privilege," subject to Forest Service whim. Contrary to suggesting that the Service "revisit" its' policy on group gatherings, the comment stated was that there is no need to "revisit" anything, because the policy of free assembly presently existing under the provisions of the both First Amendment, as well as current CFR regulations, is perfectly adequate. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Frankly, your adamant refusal to discuss the difference between "ex parte communication" and "public meeting," with Ellen Hornstein, of the General Council's office, or to encourage a public meeting to determine 1) the factual basis for the proposed rules and/or 2) seek less restrictive alternatives did not seem an appropriate attitude for an honest listener.

Hopefully the reinvention initiative will gain momentum, move beyond talk of vague generalitits, and produce positive change. God williing, I will follow up with written comments to the Reinvention team before the end of the month. I pray we all learn to listen better, because I believe that our collective destiny may depend on that ability.

May the Force be with you,

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