Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Forest Service Enterprise Unit?
The Enterprise Program consists of a number of Enterprise Units (EUs), currently 17, each composed of one or more Forest Service employees. EUs are flexible organizations that complement the Agency’s line and staff structure. One way to think of EUs is as internal consulting groups. In addition to following all applicable federal laws, rules and regulations, EUs utilize sound business principles to conduct their operations. EUs do not receive any base/appropriated funding; rather, they market their services and products to customers within the Forest Service, or with other government agencies and their partners. EUs charge clients predetermined fees aimed at recovering all direct and indirect costs of doing business.
Who can form an Enterprise Unit and how is it done?
Any Forest Service permanent employee or group of employees may form an Enterprise Unit. EUs should have a sponsor and need to be recommended by the Enterprise Program Leadership Council (EPLC) to operate under an approved business plan, which happens after specific training sessions, and receive approval to operate by the Deputy Chief, Business Operations.
Outreach for prospective units thus far has been formally announced through official memo and on the Enterprise Program intranet site. Currently there is no outreach for new Enterprise Units, nor is there an expectation there will be through FY 2013. This decision will be made by the Deputy Chief of Business Operations, under whom the Enterprise Program falls.
Why does an Enterprise Unit need a business plan?
In writing the business plan, which happens during the above mentioned training session, prospective leads for an Enterprise Unit analyze the market for their goods and services based on their cost and pricing structure. Upon reviewing the business plan, the sponsor and Enterprise Program Leadership Council will determine whether the EU is viable. The business plan also outlines an exit strategy in the event the EU is not able to achieve its goals.
What amount of change would require re-approval of the business plan of an Enterprise Unit?
Any time an EU makes a substantive change to the direction of an EU’s business, the business plan needs to be updated and approved by the Enterprise Program Leadership Council (EPLC). EUs are encouraged to update their business plans each fiscal year. The EPLC will be using the business plan to monitor the financial stability of the EU. The Enterprise Program Office utilizes the business plan to monitor EU operations.
How do Enterprise Units obtain and manage their financing?
EUs charge fees that recover the total/full cost of running the EU, including all development, direct and indirect costs. EUs receive funds through work orders with their customers. Funds received are deposited into the Working Capital Fund (WCF) using an EU’s job codes.
What factors need to be calculated in order to determine full-cost recovery?
EUs are required to be completely self-sustaining and as such must recover their full operating costs. Each EU is taught how to calculate their full costs as part of the training session mentioned above and their estimated costs and charge rates are included in the Business Plan. Once all costs are identified and estimated, the costs are spread across the billable time available within the EU to arrive at the hourly actual cost recovery rate. Some EUs charge an hourly rate, others charge by the project or other means. Regardless of the charge method, each EU must be aware of their full costs and hourly cost recovery rates.
Can Enterprise Units make a profit?
EUs do not generate profits. Within the regulations governing the WCF, EUs need to be cash positive so as to remain financially viable. The positive cash balance is held in the Enterprise Unit’s business account (a Forest Service Working Capital Fund or “WCF”) and is referred to as a reserve.
Forest Service manual and handbook sections concerning WCF allow cash balances to be carried forward. If a unit has a positive cash balance, that positive balance may be used, for example, to offset unforeseen circumstances, such as extended sick leave for an employee.
What happens if an Enterprise Unit has a negative balance?
Negative balances and other related financial metrics are dealt with in accordance with the Enterprise Program Monitoring Document, put out under signature of the Deputy Chief of Business Operations. Depending on the length and severity of the negative balance an EU may be required to revise their business plan and be placed on a recovery plan until their deficit problem is resolved. If the deficit is not resolved under the recovery plan, then an exit strategy would be implemented in order to return the EU business lead and employees to traditional Forest Service jobs. The Enterprise Program Leadership Council makes the recommendation whether or not to disband an EU; the final determination lies with the Deputy Chief of Business Operations.
Where do Enterprise employees fit in the Forest Service organization?
All approved EUs and their employees, regardless of their physical location, are assigned to the Enterprise Program, under Business Operations in the Washington Office. EU employees retain their civil service status with all the associated rights and benefits.
What are the advantages of an Enterprise Unit to the employee?
Due to the virtual nature of the organization, Enterprise employees can usually live anywhere in the country. Enterprise employees take pride and ownership in their units and projects. Specialists are often able to focus on their area of expertise while serving clients throughout the agency.
After a person retires from the Forest Service, are there any options for coming back to work with an Enterprise Unit?
Yes, under the same terms and conditions as any federal employee would return to any federal sector position retirees can return to the federal government in a temporary or permanent position.
What happens to employees who are part of an unsuccessful Enterprise Unit or a when a Unit disbands for any reason?
Before any decision to disband an unsuccessful EU, management will explore alternatives such as restructuring, market options and opportunities, and modifications to products and/or services offered in an effort to help the EU remain viable.
If these efforts are not successful, and it is determined that the EU must be disbanded, contingency plans allow employees of an unsuccessful or disbanded EU to return to the traditional workforce. The Enterprise Program Office will facilitate reassignment or placement opportunities for employees of the disbanded EU. There is no guarantee, however, that EU employees will be able to return to their previous position.
Employees have the same rights as all other Forest Service employees per the Master Agreement between Forest Service Management and the Union (NFFE). This is outlined in the MOU between the Enterprise Program and NFFE (doc).
What happens to an EU if the EU Executive Officer (lead for the EU) retires, leaves for another position or is unable to continue as the business lead permanently or temporarily for some other reason?
As with any other Forest Service unit, an acting EU Executive Officer can be placed temporarily into the position. It would be done by the Enterprise Program Director and last until the Executive Officer returns or is replaced. If the Executive Officer leaves the position, the job would be advertised and filled like any other FS position.
What is a sponsor?
A sponsor is a line or staff officer (examples might include a Forest Supervisor, Assistant Regional Forester, District Ranger or other Station Director, or Project Leader). The sponsor’s role is to advise, counsel, review, problem solve, mentor, and coach the EU. While a sponsor is not required, the Enterprise Program Leadership Council strongly recommends EUs have a sponsor, particularly in the first years of a new EU.
Can Enterprise Units have multiple sponsors?
For consistency and accountability it is recommended that each EU have just one sponsor. However, there is at least one situation where an EU has two sponsors. We also have situations where EUs have chosen to operate with a Board of Directors.
What if I can't find a sponsor on my unit?
A proposed EU does not have to use a sponsor who is located on a particular unit. You have the ability to use any appropriate sponsor regardless of their location.
What happens if an Enterprise Unit's sponsor leaves?
If a sponsor leaves, the EU would either seek a replacement or decide at that time to no longer have a sponsor. They would need to make this determination in consultation with the Enterprise Program Director.
Can an Enterprise Unit “fire” its sponsor?
The EU may switch to another sponsor. If an EU is having difficulty with their sponsor, the Director of the Enterprise Program should be consulted for assistance in resolving the situation.
What are the advantages of Enterprise Units to Forest Service management?
Quality and timely deliverables: All Enterprise Units are sustained by the income generated by their project work. EUs are accountable to their clients and bound by their service agreements. In order to be successful, EUs must provide quality products and/or services within reasonable time limits to their clients.
EUs may reduce a client unit’s fixed costs, increase quality, and improve customer service by providing clients with alternatives for some services and products. The EU approach ties dollars directly to accomplishments on the ground.
Why would a customer hire an Enterprise Unit if their funding is nondiscretionary or they have an existing program to support?
There are two distinct advantages to hiring an EU:
- Specialized Expertise: Managers benefit by the specialized expertise offered by EU employees who are highly skilled in their fields.
- Cultural Understanding: Because Enterprisers are Forest Service employees they understand the agency’s mission, culture and way of doing business. This allows them to "hit the ground running" as soon as a work order for a project is in place.
Can Enterprise Units compete outside the Forest Service?
Since Enterprise employees are government employees, EUs can write agreements and do work for any government agency. Our authority for this is 31 USC 1535, The Economy Act of June 30, 1932.
What recourse do dissatisfied customers have within the Enterprise Unit system?
Customers who do not receive satisfaction from an EU should initially raise their concerns with the sponsor and/or the Director of the Enterprise Program. If necessary, an audience with the Enterprise Program Leadership Council may be appropriate.