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Dealing with Bureaucrats
By Del Albright

Photo: 4/02; Congressman John T. Doolittle (L), Del (C), and Vice President Dick Cheney (R).

Here are some tips for dealing with bureaucrats in order to make a little headway with them (I speak from experience on both sides.....I was one). I served in government service for over 32 years; 26 of those in the California fire service and the related bureaucracy. I offer these as tips; not as gospel. Through active duty and National Guard time consecutive with some CDF (Cal-FIRE) time, I added another 14 years of government service. I've worked in 5 different departments of the California Resources Agency. I speak of what I know. :). By the way, we are a government of, by and for the people. You can make a difference in many ways. One thing the bureaucracy is rather good at is providing quality job opportunities. Get your masters in public administration online and do your part in creating an effective government.

I want to be clear that I do not consider bureaucrats the enemy; quite the opposite. We need them to manage our public lands....and we need to help them. Here are my tips for dealing with bureaucracy (government, politicians, administrators, agency types, etc.)

(For simplicity, let's say that B = Bureaucrat)

Here's my simple version of dealing with B's.

1. Seek First to Understand: Before you can convince a B of your opinion or needs, you should first consider trying to understand where they're coming from. Once you understand (not necessarily agree with) their position, you can better find ways to negotiate with them. But first you must know their platform and argument. Try hard to understand it from their perspective (so you can build a better argument for yours).

2. Listen: Probably the most important trait anyone can have for any dealings with people, but it's especially true with B's. They've got to believe that you're hearing their side of the story before they will relinquish any ground. And if you're busy showing them you're not listening, they're likely not to give any ground out of a personal reaction. More importantly, you need to play lawyer a bit. In other words, the more they talk, the more you find *loopholes and trails.* trails, I mean paper or word trails that allow you room to maneuver during negotiations or meetings.

Let's take an example: suppose you want to convince the local District Ranger to open a road. During talks/letters, she says "Sorry, I can't open that road because of our Draft Travel Management Plan." You say: "I see; may I have a copy of the Draft Plan please, for my records and review?" She says: "No, it's against our policy to hand out a draft of this document." You say: "I see; may I have a copy of the policy for my records, please?"

Get where I'm going? Listen well enough to see the loopholes and methods to keep getting information and other ways to get to your desired end results. In this case, if the policy were not obtainable, you'd naturally give the B a chance to back-peddle and eventually give you the darn Plan that you wanted in the first place. Let them save face if at all possible. If you burn one, it'll eventually come back to bite you. However, in extreme cases, you may have to jump up the chain of command and give them a thorough administrative thrashing.

(The following comments were added by "Crash Gayheart"): When talking about keeping a particular road/route open, find out if it is currently on a township or other existing (older) map. Many townships can't afford to maintain all the roads within, but must have the roads on the map to continue to receive Federal Highway money. Therefore the road is still a legal roadway.

If you meet with opposition from a B in one division, seek assistance from a township trustee (in those states where this applies).

Another good selling point to keep track of is the average spending per vehicle for a ride. Count camping fees, hotel bills, fuel, groceries and beverages, parking fees (for trailers and tow vehicles), parts if needed. On our larger events we pass around a piece of paper and ask everyone to write down how much they have spent for the event. We add it up and divide by the number of vehicles (our average for a 3 day event is $250).

This is money into the local economy, and many times the location of good wheeling is in a rather low level economy. Hey money talks, and it has opened quite a few doors for several clubs that I know of. Jenny "Crash" Gayheart .

3. Persist: Yes, it pays to persist. If you haven't dealt with a big bureaucracy before, it's kind of like getting a job. You've got to stay at it. Write, follow-up call, write again, ask, listen, ask, write...etc. Sometimes it's easier to give in than to fight a persistent user .....come to think of it, I believe that many eco-greenies get their way with precisely this tactic!!! Another way to look at this is to admonish yourself not to accept the first three no's.

4. Respect: It always pays to be respectful with B's, even when you're ready to explode with anger. You'll win in the end. On the other hand, if you lose your demeanor and become disrespectful, they have every right to cut you off and sink your ship in the bureaucratic process. They ARE public servants; we do pay their salaries; but they're no less human than you or me. So we need to maintain our cool......if you end up in a *hearing* of some sort and can show that a B lost his/her cool while you maintained yours, you'll gain some significant ground.

5. Deliver: If you're working with B's in a project or planning process, deliver what you promise; and don't promise what you can't deliver! Make sure if you're going to do something, you do it. You'll always look good. Expect the same of the rest of your working group.....

6. Know the Jargon: OK, this is a hard one if you don't work in the system. But to really be effective in speaking the language of a bureaucrat, you should take a little time to learn their rank system, chain of command, and jargon. Not everyone is a Park Ranger. USFS rangers are called District Rangers or Forest Rangers. Park Service folks do use the term Park Ranger, as does BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation. Fish and Game folks are Wardens or Lieutenants and Captains, or biologists, or other related terms.

The point is, learn a little about the B's you'll be dealing with. You can do some of this on web pages also..... Take Note: here is the chain for the USFS: District Ranger to Forest Supervisor to Regional Forester to Chief (Washington DC).

7. Due Dates: When you're working with or negotiating with B's, let them do their job; give them a reasonable time to do it; but PIN THEM DOWN. In the Plan example above, you might ask: When could I have a copy of the plan? The B might say: I'll send it to you. Then you would pin her down by saying: Great, when can I expect it so I can mark my calendar?

If you can do it, let the B pick the due date......that makes it their complete responsibility and self-imposed requirement. Well, this list isn't complete by any means, but if you use these tips, you'll find yourself winning more than loosing.

Good luck,

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