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Reclamation biologists to keep jobs

Regional manager decides to keep division intact

by DEVAN SCHWARTZ , Herald and News 4/18/13

     Seven local Bureau of Reclamation fish biologists will sleep easier with news their division is no longer being threatened with reassignment or outright closure. The regional director has decided to keep the division intact.

   A memo about reducing the fisheries’ biologist staff, written by Klamath Basin Area Office manager Jason Phillips in November, sparked union grievances and a watchdog group’s complaint of scientific and scholarly misconduct. The memo detailed plans for organizational changes, including scientific work being transferred to other agencies and the fisheries division shrinking through attrition.

   Since then, the situation has been a sore subject on both sides. Phillips said he did nothing wrong, and his decisions were purely motivated by budgets and responsible management practices.

   The biologists’ union and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said the justification for the area manager’s claims were not substantiated and the biologists would prefer to be supervised by Reclamation’s Bay-Delta office near Sacramento.  

   Regional Director David Murillo sent an April 12 letter to union president Todd Pederson detailing his response to the conflict.

   Murillo wrote that Phillips’ memo will be rescinded with an apology to the Fisheries Resources Branch for how the letter was written. He also said the fisheries division will be kept intact and     working on Klamath Falls issues, except for unionapproved temporary work assignments.

   And in a move toward greater collaboration with the union, Murillo wrote that the future of the Fisheries Resources Branch will be evaluated by a joint union-management team in a “collaborative and transparent environment.”

   If the union is not amenable to this response, spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region Pete Lucero said they have the right to continue the grievance process.

   “This is a collaborative approach and, through this process, we’ve laid out a plan for that,” Lucero said.

   Murillo’s letter can be read at  http://bit  . ly/10iHkz4.  

   Cautious optimism

   and collaboration

   Union president Todd Pederson expressed cautious optimism based on the regional director’s response.

   “We’re pleased that senior management has made their apology,” Pederson said. “Now what we’re planning on doing is hiring a contractor to look into a solid business plan for   the fisheries group and its functions.”

   One lingering issue has been scientific work Reclamation has contracted out to other agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey.

   Management had said contracting is a cost-saving measure and one that ensures the quality of science; the union responded by asserting it’s more costeffective to do scientific work in-house with equivalent quality. Pederson said about $650,000 in work is contracted out annually from the Klamath Falls Reclamation office.  

   Pederson said the issue of scientific integrity had been resolved and now will move forward on a collaborative plan balancing costs and workload.

   “It’s going to be more of a cooperative process, which is what we were looking for — something that is fair and balanced and transparent,” he said.

   “The unfair labor practice charge was rescinded and the grievance process ends with (Murillo’s) letter. So while we didn’t get everything we wanted, we got a good portion of the remedies and a fair process moving forward.

   “It looks good on paper,   but we’re still working through the process. With sequestration and everything going on, it’s really hard to predict a timeline, because money is really tight,” Pederson said.

   PEER Executive Director Jim Ruch said the development “walks Reclamation back from the brink of a war with its own scientists.”

   “This action illustrates that a simple apology is one of the most effective but least utilized options employed in public service,” Ruch said in a news release.  

   Complaint withdrawn

   Pederson said an original complaint asking for disciplinary action against area manager Jason Phillips was formally withdrawn.

   “This gives us a little bit of redemption, but from senior management and not from (area manager) Phillips himself,” Pederson said. “I think the fisheries group would feel redeemed if they received something from Jason — a public apology would be appropriate.”

   Phillips was unavailable for comment by press time.




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