Regional forester to step down
Northern Region Forester Brad Powell will retire from the U.S. Forest Service in January rather than accept a reassignment to Washington, D.C., agency officials confirmed Thursday.
Powell, 53, had been the subject of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General because of allegations that he inappropriately used government computers to access pornography.
That investigation revealed "nothing of a criminal nature," Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said when contacted by the Missoulian.
Still, Bosworth said, he "had some concerns out of the investigation" and - as a result - decided to reassign Powell to the Forest Service's Washington office as an associate chief.
"I set some very strong standards for honesty and trustworthiness," Bosworth said. "I have to be 100 percent confident in my nine regional foresters."
The investigation left him with "concerns about the use of government property," the chief said, and concerns about Powell's forthrightness when asked about the allegations against him.
Powell, however, said he had no information about the chief's concerns.
"There's nothing I can say about what Dale said. Dale has been very supportive of me for many years. He brought me to Missoula," Powell said.
Bosworth emphasized that the reassignment was not a demotion and that Powell "contributed significantly" to the Forest Service during his 32 years with the agency.
"Brad has been a leader in the Forest Service," Bosworth said. "In a lot of areas, he has contributed significantly. I don't want to diminish any of that. It would be unfair to Brad and it would blow this thing way out of proportion."
"I would have been happy to bring Brad to Washington, D.C.," he said.
Powell announced his Jan. 23 retirement in a late-afternoon e-mail to Forest Service employees in Montana and northern Idaho, and confirmed his plans in an interview with the Missoulian.
However, Powell insisted that he was not leaving because of the OIG investigation, but because he was offered a job as senior vice president for conservation and lands at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
"I was presented with a great opportunity to join a great organization," he said. "I had long thought I would like to join a conservation organization when I retired."
Powell said the only thing he knows about the OIG investigation is that it showed no criminal wrongdoing.
The investigators never shared any of their findings with him, Powell said, so he knows nothing of the report's content.
And, he said, he could not speak to Bosworth's concerns.
Over the past few months, Powell said, he and the chief talked about several job possibilities in Washington, D.C., but never got down to specifics.
"I am really interested in staying in Montana and living in Missoula," Powell said. "And I had been thinking about retirement for a few years."
The job at the Elk Foundation provided the impetus to leave the Forest Service, he said.
However, Bosworth said Powell was offered a job in Washington, D.C., and turned down the offer.
As a member of the Senior Executive Service, he was then eligible to retire at 53 rather than at 55.
Members of the Senior Executive Service fill the highest-ranking jobs in the federal bureaucracy. They can be moved to new jobs or even relieved of their duties more easily than can other federal employees.
To take early retirement, Powell had to be offered a job and to decline that offer.
When contacted by the Missoulian, Bosworth said he was limited in what he could say about Powell's reassignment because of the federal Privacy Act.
The Office of Inspector General began its investigation in 2002 because of allegations that Powell had "misused government property," specifically computers.
OIG investigators took a look at Powell's office and laptop computers, and questioned a number of Forest Service employees in Missoula and California.
"To my knowledge, there was nothing found of a criminal nature," Bosworth said.
Powell was not asked to resign and was not offered any sort of deal if he retired, the chief said, but he was asked to take the new assignment in Washington, D.C.
"I did have a few concerns out of the investigation that had to do with the use of government property," Bosworth said.
However, the specific nature of those concerns must remain private because of laws that protect Powell's privacy, his boss said.
Powell was named the Northern Region's top forester in November 1991, after serving as the Pacific Southwest regional forester in California.
His Forest Service career began in 1969, when he spent the summer as a firefighter on the Tonto National Forest in Arizona. When he graduated from forestry school in 1972, he went to work for the agency full-time.
Over the decades since, Powell was a district ranger in New Mexico and Alaska, supervisor of the Mount St. Helens National Monument, the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky and Alaska's Tongass National Forest.
In his e-mail to Forest Service employees at 12 national forests in Montana and northern Idaho on Thursday, Powell said he continues "to be amazed at the people of this organization that I've been privileged to work with.
"My memory bank is full of people and places that I will continue to treasure for years to come."
At the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, public relations director Steve Wagner confirmed that Powell will be that group's new senior vice president.
However, he said he knew nothing of the circumstances under which Powell was leaving the Forest Service - although, he said, he was not involved with the interview process.
Wagner was, however, able to contact the Elk Foundation's president and chief executive officer, who was vacationing in Colorado.
"This is new information for us," J. Dart said in a written statement Thursday night. "Certainly we'll look into it, but we understand the investigation was internal only and revealed no wrongdoing."
"Until we see facts that prove otherwise," Dart continued, "we're confident that Brad Powell is a man of integrity and great conservation leadership."
Reporter Sherry Devlin can be reached at 523-5268 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]