The latest federal agency to join the war on terrorism appears to be the Forest Service. I make this assumption since the agency is not revealing any information about the San Bernardino National Forest budget. Apparently that data is off-limits to the public.
While the agency’s national budget is available online, the local budget appears to be top-secret. Not even a “Mother, May I” request has been sufficient to penetrate the Forest Service’s silence.
Other government agencies respect the public’s right to know and to learn the intimate details of their operations. Let me give you two examples from local fire agencies.
The Idyllwild Fire Protection District’s 2011-12 budget is about $1.7 million, and nearly 77 percent is for salaries and benefits. In fact, retirement costs are about $222,500.
The Riverside County Fire Department’s 2011-12 budget is about $125 million. Its staffing totals about 214 firefighters and other personnel.
The county’s dwindling resources and the collapsing sales tax revenue resulted in Chief John Hawkins considering, in the spring, the closure of several stations, including Station 63 in Poppet Flat.
During the county’s spring budget review, several Poppet Flat residents attended a Board of Supervisor’s meeting to express their opposition.
The entire 2011-12 wildland fire budget for the U.S. Forest Service is $2.1 billion and it funds 11,772 full-time equivalent employees. In addition, there is another $397 million for emergency fire protection. This is less than the prior fiscal year.
Yet, the fire budget for the San Bernardino National Forest and its three districts — the Front Country, Mountain Top and the San Jacinto — has been impossible to obtain.
The reason for my interest is the same as why Hill residents care about the IFPD and RCFD budgets.
We live here and fire is a constant threat. Every local fire official now describes the our fire season as “year-round.” Consequently, we want to know what fire resources will be available to safeguard us.
If the closing of the Station 63 captures the interest of Hill residents and Town Crier readers, then I think the possibility the Forest Service is planning staffing reductions would be of equal interest.
I have heard rumors from multiple people that Forest Service Supervisor Judy Noiron has decided or is planning to cut staff, including in the San Jacinto District.
If the Forest Service is willing to discuss cuts to the fuels projects, why not share information about staffing? As citizens, we have a right to know how our government’s actions will affect us.
So, I asked for the San Bernardino National Forest budget and the budget for the three districts covering the past two fiscal years and the current year.
Nine days later, I received a letter asking me to approve a manual search for this information that might be costly. Therefore, I was told to limit the search and clarify what Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011 meant!
Manual search? The entire Forest Service budget is online at http://www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/budget/. In the Forest Service’s Budget Overview, pages 13 to 15 display the agency’s budget for FY 2010, 2011 and 2012 and pages 25 to 27 display the agency staffing levels for the same three years.
I worked for the federal government (years ago), and our budget records for regions and state offices were on computers even then. What’s this about a manual search? Someone could print out what I asked for in 15 minutes or produce a file to email. It’s now two weeks since my formal request; nothing has been revealed about the local budget or staffing plans.
Keep in mind, the original request was three months ago.