Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Disclaimer

One of those areas of interest to me that I have largely avoided discussing is the US Forest Service. The reason for this is, of course, because I work for the organization and like most employees work very hard at maintaining a distinction between my official duties and my personal opinions, beliefs, etc. (Contrary to what most “civilians” think, codes of ethics are drilled into us constantly and almost all public employees I know adhere to that strict code, often to the point of restricting their own personal freedoms outside of the workplace. The same cannot be said for politicians, however; despite being public employees under the same restrictions as the rest of us who work in government, I am constantly amazed at the daily egregious breeches of ethical behavior exhibited by politicians of all party affiliations. There is clearly a double standard at work…but I digress…). What few Forest Service issues I have directly commented on have been limited to those bits of information found easily on the internet – by anyone.

I may have to re-think staying away from Forest Service and other land management agency issues, however. In doing so, I must follow RangerX’s lead and post a disclaimer (I also hope that RangerX understands that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and won't mind that I used many of the same phrases in developing my own disclaimer!). The basic tenets of ethical conduct demand that I a) don’t use my position for financial gain (not bloody likely with blogging anyway!); b) don’t disclose “inside” agency information not already generally available to the public – more specifically, that I don’t use agency information (unavailable elsewhere) to entice new readers to my blog!; and c) that I don’t speak for the agency. Of course, with federal rules and regulations it’s never that simple (hey, this is the government!) but that’s the gist. I would also note, that for those of us on the bottom rungs of the government network, we must not only avoid the strictly legal definitions of ethics violations, we must also avoid the “appearance” of un-ethical behavior (something politicians don’t apparently have to sweat…just as long as they don’t violate the letter of the law! – most government employees have a higher ethical standard they need to abide by). So if it’s even potentially perceivable as an ethical lapse in judgment, I won’t be discussing it on this blog.

All this does not mean that I can’t have an opinion on Forest Service policies, activities, etc. I am covered by free speech rights as much as the next person. In fact, I think government employees often remain too tight lipped on issues, particularly when it comes to suffering criticism from outside the agency. Many members of the public feel free to criticize government employees, usually because it’s a “safe” thing to do. Most public employees won’t react, so a critic can bluff a lot of people with unsubstantiated BS and not worry about getting called on the carpet for it. I think it’s time to start calling the bluff. Feel free to criticize (it’s your right!) but prepared to do so only at your own intellectual risk. You’ll still probably win – most employees, even if they know you’re an idiot, won’t get in a public pissing match if only to avoid embarrassing the agency (again, public employees maintain a higher moral standard).

So, after all that, I point you to the disclaimer in my personal profile.

1 comment:

Ranger X said...

Indeed I feel flattered, and don't worry, I too borrowed some of the phrasing of my disclaimer from late and great park rangers. I'm sure they feel honored to know that their words live on where ever they might be now.