Communication. Trust. Leadership.

A report by the Interior Department inspector general, released this month, provides a glimpse of how these issues can arise in agencies that have to manage a workforce spread across the country.

The report, by Earl E. Devaney, Interior's inspector general, focused on the law enforcement office at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Devaney praised the office for "significant progress" in overhauling its operations since 2002, when the secretary of the interior called for improvements.

But Devaney also found some problems in the law enforcement office, such as a "general mistrust of senior management" and a lack of communication between the headquarters and the field, "which has created a perception that there is a 'wall' between management and field personnel."

For the review, Devaney's staff conducted more than 110 interviews, traveled to field offices and hired a consultant to survey the law enforcement staff. Of 369 employees asked to participate in the survey, 88 percent responded -- an indication, the report said, that the employees are highly committed to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency's law enforcement office enforces federal laws, such as protections for endangered species and migratory birds. The office's work includes breaking up animal-smuggling rings, safeguarding habitat for endangered species, enforcing bird-hunting regulations and inspecting wildlife shipments to detect illegal trade.

The IG review suggested that the agency's law enforcement program is at risk of being undermined because of leadership and communication problems -- issues that hinder operations in many parts of the government.

The report pointed out that the lack of communication between senior leaders and the field "has significantly impacted morale and trust." Field employees said their bosses at headquarters never visited their offices, and many field agents said they rarely got an office visit from their superiors -- the special agents in charge.

Field employees also said they were frustrated by management practices. The IG found that an "unwritten requirement" for promotions is two years of experience working at Fish and Wildlife's law enforcement headquarters and that field employees think promotions often go to agents with little or no supervisory experience.

Bonuses and time-off awards also were distributed on an inconsistent basis, the IG found.

In 2005, about half of the law enforcement employees who received a performance rating of "exceptional" were in one region, while the remaining six regions and headquarters shared the remaining half. In three regions, employees rated as "superior," a step below exceptional, received bigger bonuses than those employees rated exceptional, the report said.

Disciplinary action proved to be another sensitive topic, the IG found. In one case, an employee received the mandated 30-day suspension for misusing a government vehicle, while another employee in a different region received a 14-day suspension for a more serious offense -- driving while intoxicated in a government vehicle and while carrying a firearm.

"Inconsistencies such as these have caused resentment and frustration," the report said.

Benito Perez, acting chief of law enforcement for Fish and Wildlife, said the law enforcement office has started work on 12 recommendations made in the IG report to improve operations.

"We don't disagree with the validity of the recommendations, and we are working toward meeting those recommendations," said Perez, a 19-year Fish and Wildlife law enforcement officer.

Unions for TSA ScreenersSenior advisers to President Bushwould recommend that he veto anti-terrorism legislation that included a provision to permit federal airport screeners to engage in collective bargaining, a White House spokesman said yesterday.

Legislation to implement the unfinished recommendations from the 9/11 commission would permit Transportation Security Administration screeners to be represented by unions. The provision was added to the bill by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman(I-Conn.).

Scott Stanzel, the White House spokesman, said, "We vigorously disagree with the provisions of the Senate legislation that would eliminate the flexibility given to TSA to perform its transportation security missions."

The TSA needs the ability to quickly reassign and move screeners to respond to threats, he said.

Lieberman has contended that the screeners should have employee protections similar to those provided to Border Patrol agents and customs and immigration officers.