Oregon Department of Forestry: Actions Needed to Address Strain on Workforce and Programs from Wildfires

Executive Summary


Three consecutive severe fire seasons have forced the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to spend more time fighting fires and less time on its other programs. Recent fires have also strained ODF personnel, who often work long hours away from home.

ODF needs to take action to reduce these impacts on personnel and programs. Systematic, long-term workforce planning that takes into account resources needed for both fire and non-fire programs; development of a more effective business improvement process; better evaluation of wildfire prevention and detection measures; and increased mitigation efforts are steps ODF should take to help address current and future challenges.

Read full report here

ODF needs to analyze and clearly communicate full impacts of wildfires on the agency

Photo by Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY

Since 2013, intense fire seasons have resulted in ODF staff spending more time on fire assignments. However, ODF does not currently collect, analyze and communicate to the Legislature and its stakeholders the full impacts of fires on its programs and personnel. This information is necessary for ODF to adequately plan and manage its workforce to meet existing and future demands.

Not only are more employees participating in fire related assignments, but these employees are working much longer hours. Overtime hours spent on fire protection by permanent employees have increased by 197% in recent years.

While the wildfire suppression workload has increased, staffing has not kept pace. ODF is fighting more severe fires with about the same full-time equivalent employees it had nearly 20 years ago. Fires have also created more administrative work, including preparing claims for cost reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies, and making catastrophic wildfire insurance claims and emergency funding requests. To date several of these claims have not been completely processed, which resulted in ODF borrowing to finance these fire related costs. During the past three fire seasons, ODF paid $1.5 million in interest on this borrowing.

ODF staff in Salem and field offices are feeling overworked and are experiencing stress and fatigue as a result of fire related work. Despite the strain of consecutive severe fire seasons, ODF Management reports that employees remain committed to participating in the agency’s firefighting efforts. However, as staff devote more time to wildfire seasons, employees and agency leadership have expressed concerns about ODF’s ability to continue performing at current service levels.

Recent fires have caused delays in work for ODF’s non-fire programs, as employees in these programs are deployed to fire incidents. Examples include delays in developing annual operations plans for state forests, completing Forest Practices Act compliance reporting, and updating bald eagle protection rules. Fires have also created more work for employees in these programs after fires are controlled, such as salvage logging operations and developing and implementing reforestation plans.

Non-fire program contributions to fire response capacity are not fully known

ODF2

Photo by Oregon Department of Forestry, CC BY

Non-fire programs contribute to ODF’s firefighting and to maintaining fire readiness. But ODF is not tracking the contributions these programs make, which are absorbed into their respective budgets. While we identified some of these contributions, ODF needs a full accounting of the contributions and related costs to adequately plan for both fire and non-fire work.

Non-fire programs contribute staff hours to fight fires and to Incident Management command and support teams. For example during the last three fire seasons, the average number of hours State Forests Program staff billed to fire protection doubled to 19,038 hours.
These programs also pay other fire-related expenses such as the cost of specialized fire qualification training, and certain fire equipment and supplies. ODF needs better information on these costs and how changes to staffing, funding and workload in these non-fire programs affect fire operation capacity.

Agency wide workforce planning needed

ODF needs a systematic workforce planning process to effectively address current and emerging challenges to its programs and workforce. Workforce analysis is needed to identify gaps and to monitor, evaluate, and revise resources in order to meet the agency’s strategic goals now and in the future. ODF has completed some analysis, but more is needed, and it should include all necessary firefighting resources.

At ODF, workforce planning is complicated by staff who have program duties and firefighting responsibilities; long training times for fire duties; and the need to meet multiple program missions, including responding to wildfires. But complete workforce analysis and planning, that takes these factors into account, can help ODF ensure it sustainably meets both its fire and non-fire responsibilities.

Systematic process for business improvements needed

As fires have increased in recent years, so have the complexity and number of financial transactions associated with suppressing those fires. Today, ODF has systems in place to collect and assess process improvement suggestions, but some are fragmented and incomplete. We found that sometimes suggestions were not fully reviewed and/or implemented, and decisions were not made or communicated.

A better system that fully reviews, implements and communicates decisions made could help ODF address its increased workload by reducing unnecessary costs and inefficiencies. It could also help to improve the alignment between existing resources and program objectives and priorities.

Evaluation of prevention and detection efforts can be improved

ODF takes some proactive steps to prevent and detect wildfires, but the agency does not systematically evaluate the costs and relative effectiveness of different strategies. Evaluating these strategies could help ODF focus its resources on the most cost-effective strategies to keep suppression costs and wildfire damages low. Better information about the money and staff time spent on different prevention and detection activities and fire causes could aid this evaluation.

More work needed to mitigate wildfire risks and target strategies

ODF3

Fuel Reduction. Photo by Oregon State University, CC BY-SA

ODF, private landowners, and federal agencies work to reduce wildfire risks posed by the accumulation of small trees and vegetation in forests resulting from decades of fire suppression, land use changes, past land management practices, and other factors. Despite these efforts, there are millions of acres of land in Oregon in high wildfire risk areas across all ownerships, including federal, state and private lands. Some of this land is highly important to our water supply. The resources currently dedicated to mitigation work are unlikely to meet this challenge. To reduce wildfire risks, some of these areas may need treatment through methods such as prescribed burning, thinning, or removal of forest underbrush in forests and around homes.

Recommendations

This audit recommends ways ODF can build on its current efforts and accomplishments, and make improvements to address current and future challenges. Our detailed recommendations for ODF management are included on Page 31. They include recommendations for collecting and analyzing better information on fire impacts and costs, developing a systematic, future oriented workforce planning process, and enhancing the agency’s business improvement process. We also recommend actions for ODF to improve wildfire prevention, detection, and mitigation efforts.

Agency Response

The agency agrees with the report findings and recommendations. The full agency response can be found at the end of this report.

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Oregon SoS Newsroom Reblog: Oregon Motor Voter Registers an Average of 735 Voters a Day

The August data report for the Oregon Motor Voter program shows over 220,000 new voter records added to the rolls since the program took effect on January 1, 2016.

Read more at: Oregon Motor Voter Registers an Average of 735 Voters a Day — The Oregon Secretary of State Newsroom

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Atlas Obscura ReBlog: Weird attractions and unusual things to do in Oregon

We here at the Oregon Audits Division work hard to help the great ship of state stay the course; steering agencies around obvious road blocks, skirting the treacherous shores of departmental mismanagement, and generally ensuring that Oregon state government is performing to the best of its abilities for the benefit of all Oregonians. Needless to say, we think Oregon is a pretty keen place. And what better way to show we care than to share some of the (sometimes) strange and (always) wonderful places to visit in this state we call home?

Atlas Obscura has compiled a colorful list of some of Oregon’s more unusual offerings. There are some familiar locations represented here, such as beautiful Multnomah Falls:

Multnomah-Falls

Ahhhhhh…

There are quirky shops and museums that cater to the more eclectic, even eccentric, among us. Behold the handiwork of artist Jim Stewart at the Zymoglyphic Musem:

zymoglyph

There are also some places even lifelong Oregonians may have yet to visit, such as Gravity Hill on Old Fort Road near Klamath Falls, where local legend has it that gravity works in reverse.

Gravity-Hill

(As well-adjusted and reasonable people, we’d like to think we know better than to believe local legends over the Law of Gravity. But.)

Interested in seeing how many of these places you yourself have visited (and how many you haven’t gotten around to yet)? Click here!

And fear not, Audit blog regulars! We’ll return later this week with more auditing insights.

Stay tuned!

Noteworthy Oregon is Awesome

Audit Release: Keeping the State of Oregon Accountable, Fiscal Year 2015

Every year the Audits Division of the Secretary of State’s Office audits the State of Oregon’s financial statements to determine whether the information reported is reliable and accurate. This annual audit provides the state with our professional opinion about the completeness, accuracy, and validity of the state’s accounting information. See the Financial Statement Audit section of this report for more discussion of Oregon’s financial status.

In addition, we annually perform compliance audits of programs funded by the federal government to determine if they meet federal requirements for tracking and using federal dollars. These programs provide billions of federal dollars to Oregon citizens for important social, economic, and environmental missions. See the Federal Compliance Audits section of this report for more discussion of Oregon’s compliance with the requirements of federal programs.

The division communicates errors identified in financial reporting, financial processes, and non-compliance to state agencies and provides recommendations for correction to assure the integrity of financial information provided to the public. This report, “Keeping the State of Oregon Accountable,” reflects the findings of those annual audits of publicly funded programs. Important conclusions in this report are:

Audit of the State of Oregon’s Financial Statements

  • We concluded that the state’s financial statements, as corrected, are fairly presented in conformance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
  • We reported fewer internal control weaknesses this year and found that management corrected several of the prior year findings.
  • Three major changes impacted Oregon’s financial statements for fiscal year 2015:  a $1.6 billion increase in Medicaid expenditures, a change in the reporting of three major universities, and new reporting standards that changed how pension information is presented.

Federal Compliance Audits

  • Because of ongoing internal control and compliance weaknesses, auditors were required to audit an increased percentage of the state’s federal expenditures.
  • Our audit included 35 findings related to 14 audited federal programs at seven state agencies. We issued “qualified” opinions on five programs, which indicate a department’s internal controls are inadequate to prevent or detect significant noncompliance in a timely manner.

Read full report here

 

For more information about audit results, you can also see the official reports on our website:

Oregon’s Financial Statements:

http://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2016-03.pdf

Single Audit (including Federal Compliance) Results:

http://sos.oregon.gov/audits/Documents/2016-09post.pdf

 

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How to: Be a quiet leader

Ian Green examines the difference between being a boss and being a leader, and how choosing to be a leader changes how we interact with those we work with and can lead to more employee engagement and improved workplace performance.

Today’s topic is leadership. More specifically, what you can do to become a better leader.  I was inspired to write this post after reading Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work by David Rock.

What makes a good leader?  In my opinion, they inspire you to achieve more.  Bosses tell you what to do, but as David Rock explains, leaders help you how to think.  They are someone you go to when you need an insight.  Someone you want to follow. Not someone who micromanages your every move.  Below is a great illustration of this concept.

leadership vs management

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/84593672@N05/10141810486

To become a better leader, you need to make sure you are focused in the right areas.  An age-old proverb tells us that if we give someone a fish, they will eat for a day.  But if we teach someone to fish they will eat for a lifetime.  Leaders need to adopt this perspective.

Telling someone what to do is just like giving someone a fish.  It may help them in the short-term, but it does not advance their skills.  It is also time-consuming for the leader. To be a great leader you must teach people how to think and come to their own conclusions. In other words, teach them how to fish.

David Rock illustrates this point in his book Quiet Leadership: “Quiet Leaders are masters at bringing out the best performance in others.  They improve their employees’ thinking—literally improving the way their brains process information—without telling anyone what to do.  Given how many people in today’s companies are being paid to think, improving thinking is one of the fastest ways to improve performance.”

The argument is rather simple: to improve performance we need to improve how people think and process information. Leaders ask probing questions more often than giving detailed instructions. They help guide people to conclusions rather than telling them.

David uses a number of academic studies to make his point that people who develop their own conclusions are more likely to retain that information (and high performance) than those who were told what the conclusions were. Leaders can help guide their staff to these conclusions by using a number of techniques. One of the primary techniques is listening.

Really listen during the next conversation you have with a colleague.  Think about what they are asking you and why they are facing a roadblock.  Ask yourself what struggles they are facing and how you can help guide them past the issue to a solution.  Many times the individual needs to process the information verbally and a few questions will help them resolve the issue they are facing.  Ask questions rather than give direction.  That will help them discover the answer themselves.

Another great point that David brings up is how to improve performance of people who are struggling. When facing a colleague with performance problems, rather than focusing on the problem, try something new. Try to develop a new habit for the individual that will help them succeed.  Studies have proven that it is easier to develop new habits than to change bad habits. By changing their focus away from what was done wrong to what they need to do right, you are more likely to see lasting changes and better performance.

I encourage you to go to your library or favorite book store to read more about Quiet Leadership. There many great concepts and ideas you can adopt to become a better leader.

If you are a State of Oregon employee, you can access this book, free of charge, from safaribooks. Read more about this service and how to register on the Oregon State Library website: http://libguides.osl.state.or.us/safaribooks

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

Ian Green, CGAP and OAD Senior Auditor

*Author attempted to contact David Rock for approval to use materials from his book, but received no response. Author’s limited noncommercial use of copyrighted material from Quiet Leadership was done under the fair use exemption: http://www.copyright.gov/fair-use/more-info.html.
 
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Oregon’s Counties: 2016 Financial Condition Review

Summary


Overall, the financial condition of Oregon counties has improved since 2014, based on increases in per capita income and declines in the unemployment rate. While four counties are still at financial risk of distress, 5 of the 9 counties identified as at-risk in 2014 have seen notable economic improvements. Actions taken by at-risk counties to address their financial conditions are outlined in the report.

We first issued a county financial condition report for the State of Oregon in 2012 with updated reports to be issued every two years. The primary source of data for the report is each county’s audited financial statements for fiscal years 2006 through 2015. Since our report in 2014, many counties have improved their financial condition. For example, every county experienced increases in per capita income and declines in unemployment rates. Nearly all counties indicate a strong liquidity position with a ratio of at least $5 of cash on-hand for each $1 of short-term obligation.

For purposes of our analysis of Oregon’s 36 counties, we selected 10 indicators that provide a general assessment of financial condition. For each indicator we present a detailed discussion. We also looked at the declining federal timber revenue to counties to identify added financial strain.

Although many counties have improved their financial condition since 2012, four counties continue to be identified as counties to monitor; that is, counties whose financial condition may indicate a higher risk of distress. We performed additional analysis on these four counties, which are individually portrayed in the Counties to Monitor section of this report:

Curry
Douglas
Josephine
Polk

Some of the counties have initiated varying strategies to address their situation. We summarized their actions and plans within this report. We do not propose solutions for counties because decisions about county taxes and the level of services are based on local priorities, within practical and legal requirements and limitations.

Early identification of financial problems enables a government to introduce remedies sooner. State monitoring of local governments can provide assurance key partners in service delivery are financially sound, and if warning trends appear, can also prompt action. A key challenge facing several states and their local governments is the right solution when a government is in severe financial distress.

Read more on the financial condition of Oregon counties, this year and in 2012 and 2014.

Oregon’s Counties: 2016 Financial Condition Review

Oregon’s Counties: 2014 Financial Condition Review

Oregon’s Counties: 2012 Financial Condition Review

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SoS Newsroom Reblog: Oregon Motor Voter adds over 50,000 new voters to the rolls

SALEM – On the eve of a historic primary election in Oregon, Secretary of State Jeanne P. Atkins released new data from the state’s pioneering automatic voter registration program today that show 51,558 new voters on the rolls…

Read more at the Oregon Secretary of State’s Newsroom! Oregon Motor Voter adds over 50,000 new voters to the rolls — The Oregon Secretary of State Newsroom

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