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Forest Products Modernization In-Depth

A picture of a front loader stacking logs on a log truck.

USDA Forest Service photo

In order to better deliver forest products to communities across the country, the Forest Service is developing strategies to train our employees, improve efficiency through technology, streamline our business processes and systems for delivering forest products, and examine and reform policy.

The agency is committed to getting more work done on the ground through stronger, innovative project design and implementation. Additionally, the Forest Service plans to work closely with partners and incorporate public feedback to find new, improved ways to accomplish the agency mission.

 

Identified Change Needs

The Forest Service has received input from around the country to identify needs that must be addressed to move toward the goals of forest product modernization. These are:

Personnel Recruitment, Staffing, and Training Programs:

Offer personnel recruitment, training, and staffing opportunities to better support forest product delivery system needs. Consider training program managers and using specialized staff to develop and implement training programs, including contracting officers, economists, transportation engineers, logging systems, and engineers and include technical support for using software and hardware.

Sale Layout, including transportation and logging systems:

Determine which sale layout policies and procedures (including cruise standards and design, paint, and unit and sale boundary delineation) that can be altered or eliminated to increase efficient and effective timber sale layout. Streamline our policies and procedures for logging systems transportation analysis, rights-of-way acquisitioning, funds availability for future haul routes, availability of employees with technical expertise, and partner collaboration.

Timber Sale Accounting, Scaling, and Accountability:

Increase flexibility and efficiency in our financial system, accountability standards, and timber scaling policies and procedures by determining which ones can be eliminated, changed, or streamlined. Consider financial determinations, availability of employees with financial expertise, sale inspections, haul routes, selling at base rates, measurements, timber disposal authorities, export requirements, and weight services agreements.

Certification:

Streamline certification requirements for timber sale preparation and contracting positions (contracting officers, Forest Service representatives, sale administrators, harvest inspectors, and cruisers). Determine which requirements can be eliminated or modified while still ensuring an adequate agency pool of skilled practitioners. Examine duplications or overlaps in contract policies and procedures between traditional sale contracting and stewardship-integrated resource contracting.

Appraisals:

Determine which appraisal system policies and procedures can be eliminated, changed, or streamlined to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Review current standards for low value forest products and base rates.

Contracting and Permitting:

Examine our current policy and procedures for timber sale contracting and non-commercial forest products permitting, to determine which ones can be eliminated, changed, or streamlined when in the best interests of both parties. Consider low-value markets, post-contract awards, term adjustments, award timeframes, road package contracts, end-results clauses, and stewardship and Good Neighbor Authority contracts.

Project and Program Management:

Thoroughly examine timber project management systems from initial planning to a signed decision to on-the-ground implementation. Explore progress tracking, line officer engagement, and the handoff between the interdisciplinary sale planning and environmental analysis teams and the sale implementers to find best practices, and determine if efficiencies can be gained. Coordinate with the Environmental Analysis and Decision Making (EADM) agency change effort to see how we can streamline our current policy and procedures for implementing the requirements of NEPA, Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and other laws and regulations for forest products projects (the gate system), while still meeting resource objectives and public benefits. Consider how the financial feasibility analysis is done in Gate 1, to integrate across budget line items. Also consider connections with the planning handbook (FSH 1909.12) and land use/special use authorizations.

Permanent and Trust Funds Management:

Discover the best ways to enhance spending flexibility outside the timber sale area by reviewing our policies and procedures for managing permanent allocations and trust funds. Determine what can be eliminated, changed, or streamlined. Find out how to improve transparency in national overhead collections.

Information Management:

Review the Timber Information Manager (TIM) database to determine processes that can be eliminated, changed, or streamlined for efficiency and effectiveness. Consider improvements based on contract type (stewardship, weight and tree measure) and improved linkages with other databases (FACTS, PALS).

Forest Products Utilization and Available Markets:

As possible, expand the available market for wood products (domestic and international), the forest products supply chain, and the existing capacity of mills to process wood products. Encourage and support innovations in forest products utilization for bio-energy/biomass production.

Silviculture:

Discover how to 1.) Improve silviculture support to forest products, 2.) better implement designation by prescription, and 3.) improve operational flexibility of prescriptions. Review and streamline our policies and procedures.

Reviews and Audits:

Determine how best to use our timber sale reviews and audit processes so that they can best provide assistance and guidance to timber production personnel.
 

Action Plan

The Forest Products Modernization team has been busy! During a workshop in June 2018, the team reviewed, synthesized and prioritized more than 300 recommendations received from solution teams (made up of district, forest and regional employees convened to address the highest priorities for change from the list of 12 above). The team also considered ideas and recommendations from other agency employees and partners submitted via past engagement sessions, email and SharePoint forums. Allen Rowley, Director of Forest Management, Range Management and Vegetation Ecology, reviewed June workshop results and identified 10 high-leverage recommendations for implementation. Regional leaders reviewed these recommendations during a July 2018 workshop and we are using this feedback now to develop action plans for moving forward with each of these recommendations:

Train our Employees

  • Continue training on new tools, new authorities and methods (visit the Forest Management training site!)
  • Develop a standardized sale administration position description
  • Summarize the emerging recruitment/retention theme and work with Human Resources to find leverage points

Examine and Reform Policy

  • Describe why we have certifications, determine if changes are needed and if so, determine return on investment

Improve Efficiency through Technology

  • Develop business requirements for a modernized Timber Information Management (TIM) system
  • Continue the application and use of digital technologies and any infrastructure improvement needed to support it

Change Processes and Systems

  • Develop a streamlined and simplified contracting process
  • Develop a simple appraisal process, considering the new base price system being piloted and other ideas
  • Look into the Forest Products Financial System and consider desk guide/task book concepts

Change the Way We Do Business

  • Define the emerging low value theme and develop a policy on appraisal, removal and management of low-valued products in timber sales of all kinds

 

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