Seems that the Forest Service has long relied on non-profits and contractors for provide services for quite some time. “During the past decade, the community-based groups have sprouted in Oregon and throughout the West. They’ve filled a gap caused by Forest Service budget cuts.” Essentially, these are the same services that President Bush has tried to competitively source but has been faced with stiff opposition from labor unions and other special interest groups limiting the programs overall effectivness. One concern about competitive sourcing is a loss of control. However, “the Forest Service still has final management and decision-making authority for all national forest projects.” Seems those fears were unwarranted. Another rallying point for the opposition is that employees do more than just their job – that they turn in their broom for a fire hose if they have to. It seems that firefighting is also contracted out, dispelling another myth: “in Oregon, the number of private 20-person fire crews with Forest Service contracts ballooned from 88 in 1998 to more than 250 last year.” One group “estimated that several hundred such organizations are scattered across the West, counting those that focus on rangeland management, rivers, tourism or specific wildlife species, rather than forests.” Perhaps the root of the opposition is jobs and not a dedication to service. In Oregon and Washington, the number of full-time Forest Service employees has fallen from 6,533 in 1998 to 5,530 in 2003.
Geoffrey Segal is the director of privatization and government reform at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. He is also editor of Reason's Privatization Watch.