On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Whistle Blower Wanna-Be
Did you ever want to blow the whistle on someone who was engaging in nefarious action, or inaction? Of course you did. But nobody likes a snitch, a rat, a back stabber, or a whistle blower. Not even a finger pointer. Neither does anyone want to be identified as a whistle blower or finger pointer.
Thus, a big time whistle blower named Edward Snowden chose to leave the United States rather than to stay and likely get prosecuted for his indiscretions, while thousands of his former colleagues continued to remain on the job; and remain silent. The Footloose Forester would have liked to blow the whistle on numerous occasions but declined to do so because there were plenty of other people around who also knew about those indiscretions. Moreover and more importantly, some of them were in positions of power and were able to do something about it.
On most occasions, the desire to blow the whistle on someone’s inaction hardly got enough attention among the ranks of the low level employees like Footloose Forester, that the issue relevant at the time was usually ignored by his superiors. Most of his grievances related to his experiences as a Personal Services Contractor for the Agency for International Development (USAID, or AID).
Starting off with the inactions, you the reader will realize that some issues were not about already mandated projects or programs, but about planning sessions during which some proposed projects moved on; and others were ignored. To get down to cases, one of the projects, indeed; one that had potential international applications was about the proposed USAID funding for tree seed nurseries in Third World countries. As a Personal Services Contractor to USAID in Cape Verde, the Footloose Forester had the privilege to attend USAID staff meetings; and had the opportunity to make suggestions for proposed future programs. Such sessions were right up his alley. As a forester, living in a Cape Verde so dry that it rained only 2-3 times a year, he dearly wanted to promote afforestation there; and to do it by first establishing tree seed nurseries.
At a time less than 10 years earlier, USAID had not a single forester within its own staff, and no forestry projects anywhere in the world. Footloose Forester wanted to be the very first one, thus to be in an official position; and to have some influence. When he was interviewed for an internship as part of the most recent class of 100 recruits in 1975, one of the interviewing committee members asked him, “Do you know that you are being recruited as an Agronomist?…"we don’t have any forestry projects in USAID…and we don’t have any foresters either.” To which Footloose Forester replied, “I want to be the first USAID forester.” As the back and forth dialogue continued, he was asked what he thought justified the creation of an entirely new job description within USAID, the Footloose Forester then replied, “Forestry projects should be part of every agricultural program in Third World countries, because forestry and agriculture have always been linked. That fait accompli is recognized even in the United States. The US Forest Service headquarters is located in the Department of Agriculture Building in Washington, D.C.; and is a formal part of The Department of Agriculture.
The Footloose Forester didn’t get the job. But some 5-6 years later USAID had a dozen forestry consultants on hire, and over 20 forestry projects up and running in Third World countries. Presumably, those contracted foresters were involved in planning and implementation of those projects.
Getting back to Cape Verde and quasi whistle blowing; when Footloose Forester was asked to make suggestions for new projects, his first choice was for a tree seed project. His suggestion was ignored. Yet only two years later there were 9 new tree seed nurseries in other countries in the Sahel Region, of which Cape Verde was a part....Presumably sponsored by USAID, Washington.
It was one thing to be passed up in the game of allocation of funds, but Cape Verde and other desert or semi-desert counties in the Sahel Region had a serious problem with fuelwood shortage, desertification, and wind erosion. Some species of trees can thrive in arid conditions, thus those adaptable species and their seeds would be the seed sources for the future.
Now for the whistle blowing…The USAID Program Manager in Cape Verde, with two college degrees in Mathematics, didn’t seem to have an understanding or either agriculture or forestry. Yet he routinely ignored the advice and suggestions of the Footloose Forester, who had two degrees in Agriculture, and one in Forestry.
Since it has been stated elsewhere in The Chronicles of a Footloose Forester, that he is not The Great I Am, nor The Great I Was, he did not complain loudly about being ignored. On the other hand, USAID missed an opportunity to make some permanent changes in a country that still suffers desertification, fuelwood shortage and severe wind erosion. Mister Program Manager, the guy with two degrees in Mathematics didn’t even believe that erosion was a problem. Thus, he probably also dismissed the findings in the Quarterly Reports that Footloose Forester regularly sent to Washington.
Then there was the USAID Program Manager in Haiti who hid a Footloose Forester critique in his desk for over a year. The Program Manager supported the CARE, Haiti request for 10 million dollars in project support funds, for the proprosed project that Footloose Forester opposed. A few years later, one of the CARE employees who had been involved in the drafting stage in Haiti, subsequently had been named as Mission Director in Madagascar. He bumped into Footloose Forester at the airport in Antanarivo, Madagascar and immediately asked to have a little tete a tete. The new Mission Director then confided that the proposed CARE project in agroforestry should not have been approved, as written. Footloose Forester had not been invited into the project planning sessions at CARE, although project oversight of CARE forestry and agroforestry projects was within his contracted responsibilities. Instead, Footloose Forested submitted his own critique of the draft document of the CARE proposal—directly to the USAID Project Officer. Another case of the wanna-be whistle blower being ignored instead of having his views considered at a time and place when a better proposal could be entertained.
Having your professional views been ignored, discounted, or dismissed by USAID officials was one of the major frustrations of working with USAID, anywhere. Especially since Footloose Forester had the professional credentials and direct knowledge of the circumstances that justifed him in his writing such a critique. During his contract in Haiti, he made over 100 field visits to project sites, so knew a few things about what worked and what didn’t. On the other hand, none of his CARE counterparts or his USAID superior had comparable professional qualifications. But, in the end, the Footloose Forester was not The Great I Am; plus he was admittedly self-effacing.
There are many other cases that might be shared; hence might be found within a separate chapter of any future Chronicles of a Footloose Forester. In the meantime, readers of this chronicle entry are free to decide for themselves if the Footloose Forester is a Whistle Blower by virtue of this fait accompli entry; or just a Wanna-be Whistle Blower who deferred sounding off, while fighting his fights inside the ring; rather than being a critic who was powerless on the outside on the ring.