Failing federal folding machine delays wildlife surveys

When Ron Lovaglio told me this story, I said, “Ron, you’ve got to write this down. It would make a great column.”

Ron served as Commissioner of the Department of Conservation for Governor Angus King and is a friend and hunting buddy of mine. This story is remarkable in several ways. Here it is, in Ron’s own words.

In late January 2013, like many waterfowl hunters, I opened mail from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because I am a waterfowl hunter they were surveying my daily take, listed by the number, species and day of ducks, geese, brants and other assorted waterfowl for 2012. I assumed that 2012 was a typo and they meant to write 2013. I mean, except for a few hunters with OCD that keep meticulous logs, who can remember how many waterfowl they took by day and species three to four months ago?

Luckily, there is a number to call for the person who signed the letter and, as a good citizen, I called to alert the government of their obvious typographical error.

A wonderfully courteous and amazingly truthful woman answers the phone and after I point out the obvious error she politely tells me that the letter is correct. When I ask why a letter like this didn’t go out at the start of the 2012 waterfowl season, she said that they intended for it to be mailed at the start of the season in September 2012 but that the USF&W Service’s letter folding machine was broken and the repairman advised them that it was so old that it couldn’t be fixed.

When they attempted to buy a new one there was no money in the budget as it was the end of the fiscal year. Moreover, because they didn’t know the letter folding machine was kaput, they hadn’t put in the new budget. Now we’re in a real fix aren’t we?

But being resourceful, the U.S. F&W Service decides to bid the work out to a private vendor. The only glitch is that the government bid process from solicitation and review to award takes about three months. Well that puts them into November to get the letters out.

But wait, there’s more! The carefully selected folding vendor doesn’t perform as expected and doesn’t get the job done even by December.

I asked if that was the only government letter folding machine in the United States of America, figuring perhaps in an emergency such as this they could share with another agency, like say Social Security which sends folded letters pretty frequently. I think I was told that this was the only machine but at this point I’m starting to get cloudy on all the steps in this knotty process.

Somehow though, the resourceful USF&W Service managed to get the Fall 2012 letters to us by late January 2013. When I asked why they didn’t just make these letters for 2013 and send them in mid-summer or early fall, I was told that they are required by law to make an annual survey – even if they don’t have a reasonable expectation that hunters will remember how many ducks they shot by species and day last year.

At this point I’m speechless… But I thanked the woman for her help and honesty. She really was great! So now, with all that understanding of the government process, I tackled the 2012 form – and as luck would have it, because I was busy fishing and hunting and other things, I didn’t do any waterfowl hunting in 2012. So I dutifully filled in zero for the number of days, number of birds and species. That wasn’t so hard after all, was it?

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.