USDA Forest Service Caring for the Land
and Serving the People

Overview of the Forest Service Directive System

For direction on the Directive System, see FSM Title 1100, Directive System, and FSH 1109.12, Directive Preparation Handbook.
1. What is the Forest Service Directive System?
The Forest Service Directive System consists of the Forest Service Manual and Handbooks, which codify the agency's policy, practice, and procedure. The system serves as the primary basis for the internal management and control of all programs and the primary source of administrative direction to Forest Service employees. New or revised continuing direction is issued by ammendment; short-term direction is issued by interim directive; and direction supplementing that issued by an external or higher level is issued by supplement.

2. How do employees obtain access to directives?
Internally, Manual amendments are stored and issued electronically. Some Handbooks are also available electronically. A master set is also maintained in paper form at Washington, Region, Station, Area, Institute, and Forest offices, as well as at some District offices. The Washington Headquarters Office has two master sets in the Information Resources Management Staff (library/conference room 812, Rosslyn Plaza, 1621 N. Kent Street, Arlington, VA) and the Engineering Staff (3-SE, Auditors Building, 14th and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC).

3. What is the difference between direction issued in the Manual and that issued in Handbooks?
Direction is issued in the Directive System based on the scope of the direction and the intended audience.

Forest Service Manual (FSM). The FSM contains legal authorities, objectives, policies, responsibilities, instructions, and guidance needed on a continuing basis by Forest Service line officers and primary staff in more than one unit to plan and execute assigned programs and activities.

Forest Service Handbooks (FSH). Handbooks are the principal source of specialized guidance and instruction for carrying out the direction issued in the FSM. Specialists and technicians are the primary audience of Handbook direction. However, some FSHs include significant procedural direction needed by line officers and/or primary staff officers; examples include Handbooks on land management planning, appeals, litigation, and environmental analysis. Handbooks may also incorporate external directives (such as the Federal Property Management Regulations in FSH 6409.31) with related USDA and Forest Service directive supplements.

4. Is Manual or Handbook direction more binding on employees?
The words used to issue direction, not whether the direction is located in the Manual or Handbook component of the Directive System, determine how binding the direction is on Forest Service employees. The use of the helping verbs "must" and "shall" or imperative mood (where the subject "you" is understood) convey mandatory compliance; "ought" and "should" convey required compliance, except for justifiable reasons; and "may" and "can" convey optional compliance.

In general, the Manual contains the more significant policy and standards governing Forest Service programs, and thus the consequence of not complying with Manual direction is generally more serious than noncompliance with Handbooks. However, procedural direction in a number of Handbooks is often equally important.

5. Who can issue direction?
Line officers at most administrative levels have authority to issue direction.

* At the National level, Deputy Chiefs and Associate Deputy Chiefs have delegated authority to issue most Service-wide direction for programs under their jurisdiction. Service-wide direction of a precedent-setting or especially sensitive nature, however, is referred to the Chief for approval. In paper form, Service-wide direction is printed on white paper.

* Regional Foresters and Forest Supervisors may supplement Service-wide direction. In paper form, Regional supplements are printed on blue paper and Forest supplements are printed on green paper. Supplements may be more restrictive than parent material, but cannot expand the authorities or relax restrictions unless approved in writing by the next higher official.

* Research Station Directors, the Northeastern Area Director for State and Private Forestry, and the Director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry also may supplement Service-wide direction. These supplements also are printed on blue paper.

* District Rangers and Research Project Leaders do not have authority to issue supplements.

6. How are directives integrated with other Forest Service records?
The architecture of codes and captions established in the Forest Service Manual is the cornerstone of the agency's integrated records management system; all directives, forms, reports, files, and correspondence on a particular subject carry the same basic codes and captions. Additionally, any prospective directive must be reviewed for impacts on forms, reports, and other information requirements, records management, and Privacy Act systems of records. The Directive System architecture and the full integration of directives issuance with other administrative systems have long made the Forest Service Directive System a model within the Federal Government. The system's reputation, currency, and accessibility have been further strengthened in recent years as a result of advances in the automated issuance and retrieval of the Manual and Handbooks.

7. What is the legal basis for directives?
The basic authority for the Chief to issue directives concerning Forest Service operations is Title 7, Code of Federal Regulations, section 2.7 (7 CFR 2.7). The Federal Property Management Regulations (41 CFR 101-11.209; FSH 6409.31 - FPMR 101-11.209) set Government-wide standards and guidelines for Federal agencies in establishing and managing effective directive systems. The Federal Information Resources Management Regulations (41 CFR 201-6.002(k)) require agencies to "control the creation and distribution of agency directives to eliminate duplicative, conflicting, or confusing instructions to agency personnel, and to ensure proper documentation of agency policies and procedures."

8. How do directives fit in the hierarchy of laws, regulations, and other direction?
Following is a simplified illustration of this legal hierarchy.

Article I
Legislative Branch
Authorizes Congress to make laws
Article II
Executive Branch
Authorizes President to execute laws
Article III
Judicial Branch
Authorizes courts to interpret laws
(U.S. Statutes and U.S. Code)
(Issued by President; codified in Title 3, Code of Federal Regulations (3 CFR))
(Case Law)
(Issued by Federal agencies; published in Federal Register and codified in CFR)

Department of Agriculture

  • Departmental Manual (DM)
  • Departmental Regulations (DR)
  • National Finance Center External Procedures

Forest Service:

  • Issues regulations at 36 CFR
  • Issues internal policies and procedures in FSM and FSH
  • Negotiates master agreement with union

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Contact information
phone: (703) 235-3211
email: directives/

Last modified, Nov 3, 1997