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When a Career Public Servant Sues the Agency He Loves: Claude Ferguson, the Forest Service, and Off-Road Vehicles in the Hoosier National Forest


Rosemary O'Leary is Distinguished Professor and Phanstiel Chair at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, and the author of The Ethics of Dissent: Managing Guerrilla Government.


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Claude Ferguson, who in his own words “met the test of his lifetime,” deviated from the norms of the U.S. Forest Service articulated by Herbert Kaufman in The Forest Ranger to became a government guerrilla against the organization he loved. This profile highlights several enduring themes: the inherent tensions between democracy and bureaucracy, the many masters of career bureaucrats, how organizational culture can both empower and constrain employees, and what it means to act responsibly, ethically, and with integrity as a public servant. In addition, this case demonstrates how the Forest Service has evolved since Kaufman's classic study. First, Kaufman depicted forest rangers as “valuing the organization more than they value[d] getting their own way,” yet this profile underscores that public servants do not check their worldviews, mores, or ethics at the door. Second, Kaufman described the Forest Service's efforts to routinize the decisions of its employees in an effort to prevent allegiances to, or co-optation by, local populations. Yet in this Administrative Profile, Ferguson's hidden strategic tactics co-opted local stakeholders to enlist their support for a cause he deeply felt was right and just.