SHERIDAN — As Bighorn National Forest Supervisor Andrew Johnson prepares to head east for a temporary assignment, officials in the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service will work to fill in behind him.
Last month, acting Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien announced Johnson will serve as the acting Black Hills National Forest supervisor. Johnson will start his new role, which is a temporary promotion due to the higher complexity of the forest, Monday.
Johnson said he expects the job in the Black Hills to be similar to his current position, but each forest has different projects in the works. For example, the Black Hills has a much larger timber production program than the Bighorn National Forest and its staff is monitoring gold exploration as well.
“I’m sure there will be some different and new challenges, but I’m primarily there to help support people as they do the great work of the Forest Service,” Johnson said.
While Johnson heads to the Black Hills, another person will fill in behind him as forest supervisor for the Bighorn National Forest, and that pattern will likely continue down the line, allowing individuals a chance to gain experience in different jobs.
“It’s totally a domino effect,” Johnson said. “We understand that we’re just rearranging the deck chairs, we’re not increasing capacity. Until we can permanently fill some of those positions and add capacity, these details are a necessary evil.”
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, a detail is a “temporary assignment to a different position for a specified period when the employee is expected to return to his or her regular duties at the end of the assignment.”
The practice of USFS and other federal employees detailing into different positions has become increasingly common, according to Johnson, due to the organization’s decreasing ability to efficiently fill vacancies.
Vacancies that exist in the organization’s human resources division cause a backlog in processing job announcements and new hires to the point that Johnson said it can take eight months or more to bring a new person into the USFS.
“Once we get a position advertised, it usually moves more quickly,” he said. “But you need it to move to the top of the stack, then we usually get the list of qualified candidates back within a month of the vacancy closing.”
Reference checks, review of applications and the decision making process can usually happen within a week or two after that.
In the meantime, though, details bridge the gap until somebody is hired full time and allow people to try out different jobs and gain experience.
Johnson noted that some positions are easier to fill than others. For example, the Bighorn National Forest is currently seeking a civil engineer. While federal jobs have often been sought out for their stability and benefits, private sector engineers have the opportunity to typically earn a higher wage.
While Bighorn National Forest officials have not yet made an announcement regarding who will serve as acting forest supervisor while Johnson is in the Black Hills, Johnson indicated that decision should happen soon.
He hopes the individual will have the skills necessary to move forward with some of the bigger projects — like aerial spraying for noxious weeds and updates to dispersed camping regulations — while he is gone.