Republicans worry that the U.S. Forest Service is sprouting a campaign branch to help Vice President Al Gore become President Al Gore in 2000.
It started when Republicans were slipped a copy of a 21-page "communication plan" recently prepared by the Forest Service outlining how it will promote its "natural resource agenda."Most of it is downright boring. It mostly lists what public events, interviews and speeches it envisions for Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck through the end of the year.
But Republicans on the House Resources Committee lost their tempers when they saw page 17.
It talks about how to emphasize "the watershed aspect of the agenda" and notes, "We will take every opportunity to tie with the vice president's Clean Water Initiative."
It explains, "This should be highlighted by the chief (Dombeck) traveling to fires receiving high media coverage." (I hope those are natural fires not intentionally set.) It means coverage likely would be sought for Gore's ideas with every major fire that erupts this year.
What was even more worrisome to Republicans is that the plan also says the Forest Service will "indeed provide a media event for the VP to showcase the initiative on national forest lands (the Nation's Headwaters)."
As one GOP staffer told the Deseret News, "Making fund-raising calls from the White House phones or giving away the Lincoln Bedroom for big donors is nothing. Instead of using federal facilities for campaigning, now he's using an entire federal agency."
House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, was upset enough to even dig out a law he says prohibits not only political campaigning by federal agencies, but even influencing legislation on matters Congress may be considering.
His staff made available copies of Public Law 105-83, Title III Section 303 - which notes appropriations shall not "be available for any activity or the publication or distribution of literature that in any way tends to promote public support or opposition to any legislative proposal on which congressional action is not complete."
Republicans also did not like another aspect of the plan, which was explained on its last page.
There the Forest Service acknowledged it had not talked to the public much about its new agenda. It said, "Given the short time frame, our efforts at gathering comments on the agenda with the public should be more reactive in nature rather than an active pursuit of comments."
It even had two responses prepared for agency officials to use if attacked for lack of public involvement, or asked if more public involvement would be allowed.
One stressed that "based upon comments from thousands of people" about forest issues through the years, "the agenda represents the agency's best effort at where the Forest Service needs to be focusing its energies over the next several years."
In others words, who cares what you say now. The Forest Service has heard it all before.
And if people ask if the Forest Service will listen to views anyway, officials are instructed to say they will listen and "if there is a fatal flaw in our proposal, yes, it will be changed. Lacking a fatal flaw, parts of the agenda will be implemented immediately."
About such views, Young complained it seems to him that the Clinton administration thinks, "We are God" - and said such views also led to the surprise creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah to help President Clinton's campaign, also done without first seeking public comment.
It all shows how far scandals - and arguments about possible scandals - have now gone in this country.
They have even invaded its forests like a swarm of pine beetles.