Funding extended into 2024
Funding extended into 2024
Nov. 20, 2023
It was welcome news to hear that the president has signed a second continuing resolution. However, I am painfully aware that continuing resolutions mean continuing uncertainty for our workforce. This continuing resolution is “laddered,” meaning it has two separate expiration dates for two different sets of agencies. Forest Service funding is in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies appropriations. That funding expires Feb. 2, 2024. The rest of the Department of Agriculture is funded until Jan. 19, 2024.
Although firefighter pay is not mentioned in the second continuing resolution, it does allow us to extend supplement payments using Wildland Fire Management funding at the same level provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, just as has been taking place as a result of the previous continuing resolution.
While it may feel frustrating not to have a permanent pay solution, I am thankful that our Forest Service family will not experience paycheck delays or reductions during the holiday season. This Thanksgiving week and every week, I am also thankful to work with such exceptional colleagues. I am particularly grateful for and want to recognize our firefighters, law enforcement officers and other employees who will be on duty on the holiday.
I hope we all make time to appreciate the beauty and diversity of our national forests and grasslands that we are entrusted to manage by the American people.
Update: Progress on wildland firefighter job series
Nov. 7, 2023
While most of my recent updates have been about wildland firefighter pay, I want to start this one with a report on our progress on the new 0456 wildland firefighter job series. Forest Service leadership is reviewing bargaining unit employee position descriptions with our National Federation of Federal Employees partners. The PDs for non-bargaining unit employees are currently being reviewed at the USDA Office of Human Resource Management for firefighter retirement coverage eligibility.
The final decisions regarding fire retirement coverage fall to the assistant secretary for Administration at USDA. After fire retirement eligibility is established, Human Resources Management staffing must conduct a job analysis to finalize new PDs. The majority of the impacted positions are expected to be advertised under the new 0456 series in the spring of 2024, and the opt-in tool for incumbent employees is slated to launch this January. In the event of a lapse in appropriations, these timelines could be impacted.
The Nov. 17 end of the continuing resolution currently funding the federal government is fast approaching. We are working closely with our partners at the Department of Interior to keep all federal wildland firefighters funded as long as possible. The new speaker of the House has announced his desire for a second continuing resolution that will last until mid-January or mid-April to allow the House of Representatives time to consider individual spending bills. Whether the program’s budget is funded through an omnibus or individual spending bill, we continue to see bipartisan support for wildland firefighter pay reform in Congress. However, we recognize that the continued uncertainty around pay is stressful for everyone.
Our wildland firefighters play a critical part in the success not only of our agency, but also in the safety and security of our nation. The funding we are seeking from Congress is not just an investment in protecting the lives and homes of our neighbors, it also protects the watersheds that make life near our forests and grasslands possible, the timber that builds our nation and the economies of the towns adjacent to our public lands. Our wildland firefighters make enormous sacrifices to serve this mission, and we have every intention of securing fair and equitable compensation for their hard work. I recognize that far too many of our colleagues have had to leave the agency to find work that pays enough to make ends meet. I hope to see them return when we have achieved our goal. For those of you who are standing with us in this fight, we thank and respect you for your commitment.
Update: Firefighter pay under Continuing Resolution
Oct. 4, 2023
As we absorb the news that Congress has passed a Continuing Resolution to continue funding the federal government through Nov. 17, I want to acknowledge the stress that comes with the potential repeat of the uncertainty we just experienced.
I know that some of you are living paycheck to paycheck and do not have the means to save for a rainy day. I hope that you find some reassurance in the news that the CR contains language that continues the firefighter pay supplement at the same levels of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law until Nov. 17. We are evaluating our approach to implementing the provision that was included in the CR and will provide information on that as soon as it’s finalized.
Rest assured that we remain committed to securing the permanent solution that our wildland firefighters deserve.
Update: Congress back in session with firefighter pay on agenda
Sept. 14, 2023
Now that the August recess is over, the House and Senate are back in session. While they have a full agenda before the fiscal year ends, firefighter pay remains our priority. I have been part of many briefings recently for relevant House and Senate committees as they do their work. Members and staff are asking important questions, including about “S. 2722–Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act of 2023,” a bill that would permanently increase base pay for Forest Service and Department of the Interior wildland firefighters. It also would provide a new kind of premium pay, Incident Response Premium Pay, for all responders, which we focused on in July’s update.
As we get closer to Sept. 30, I know many of you are anxious about what might happen next. You might also see different numbers for the amount of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding left for pay supplements. We are doing everything we can to stretch these dollars and may have enough to cover two additional pay periods after the end of the fiscal year. We have been judicious and have carefully planned to have some funds available beyond Sept. 30 to protect firefighters from the pay cliff disaster.
As you may remember, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law section that authorizes and funds the pay supplement also provides new authority to the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to “establish programs for permanent, temporary, seasonal and year-round wildland firefighters to recognize and address mental health needs, including post-traumatic stress disorder care” using the same pot of funding. We talked about that program in an Inside the Forest Service guest column in September 2022.
On April 11, 2023, Secretary Vilsack reinforced his personal commitment to the well-being of our fire workforce at the Wildland Firefighter Behavioral Health and Wellbeing Strategic Action Planning Summit, held jointly with the Department of the Interior. The Forest Service has been working to implement a solid national plan for mental health and well-being as required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Under Secretary Wilkes, Chief Moore and I all have spoken directly with firefighters and remain committed to a robust mental health and well-being program that meets their needs. We are now prepared to invest $25 million over the next three years toward a new program jointly developed with DOI to ensure wildland firefighters are receiving the mental health and well-being support they need.
I also want to recognize the hundreds of employees who still have open cases related to the pay supplement. We are committed to ensuring those employees receive the pay they deserve and continue to manage BIL funding responsibly to do just that.
The most important thing we can do is stay focused on delivering permanent, comprehensive pay reform for our wildland firefighters by the end of this fiscal year. We need Congress to act to pass the legislative proposal that accompanies the president’s budget for FY 2024 and the specific pay provisions included in the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act (S.2272 and H.R.5169).
Please know that we are encouraged that there is bipartisan support in both chambers and are doing everything we can in these critical last days of the fiscal year to ensure all our wildland firefighters are rewarded for the dangerous, grueling work they do to protect lives, communities, infrastructure and natural resources.
Update: Members of Congress recognize need to address wildland firefighter pay during appropriations process
Aug. 10, 2023
A lot of activity has been taking place in Congress around wildland firefighter pay these last few weeks. As you know from the last update, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the “Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act of 2023” (S. 2272) on July 12, which would provide special base rates and premium pay for wildland firefighters. And just this week, on Aug. 8, a bipartisan group in the House introduced the companion bill.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee considered S. 2272 during a business meeting held on July 26. The bill was voted favorably out of the committee on a bipartisan basis by a vote of 10-1 and now awaits further consideration by the full Senate.
The appropriations process is also in full swing on Capitol Hill right now. This is the time of year when Appropriations Committees (those that oversee federal agency funding) hold their business meetings regarding the various bills that fund the federal government. During these business meetings (or mark-ups), members of Congress offer and vote on amendments related to these funding bills, committee members vote to accept or reject the amendments and then vote to move the bill forward for consideration before the full Senate or House. These mark-ups are an important step forward in the process to fund the government before the next fiscal year. Both committees that oversee and provide funding for the Forest Service—the House and Senate Appropriations Committees—held their business meetings last month. You can view those meetings here:
During their business meetings, numerous members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees expressed support for averting the pay cliff. The final reports that accompany the final bills that passed out of both the House and Senate committees contained language recognizing the administration’s legislative proposal regarding firefighter compensation and the need for authorization.
- House Report language: "The Committee is aware of the Administration’s legislative proposal regarding firefighter compensation and the request for additional funding to implement the legislation. If authorizing legislation regarding firefighter compensation is enacted, the Committee will consider providing the funding required to implement such Act.”
- Senate Report language: “The President’s budget submission included a package of firefighter pay-related legislative proposals and the Committee awaits authorization committee action to enact those proposals. The Committee is committed to providing the required resources to implement these compensation reforms once they are enacted."
Congress is in recess for the month of August and will return in September to further consider legislation related to firefighter compensation before the end of the fiscal year. We are optimistic that Congress will send legislation regarding a permanent wildland firefighter pay fix to the president’s desk. Further, we remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure all our wildland firefighters are rewarded for the dangerous, grueling work they do to protect communities, infrastructure and natural resources.
We are also beginning to schedule town halls by region to provide information on these proposals and answer your questions. Look for one coming to your region soon.
Update: Wildland firefighter pay bill introduced in the Senate
July 13, 2023
I’m so pleased to be able to share with all of you today that a bipartisan group of senators introduced the “Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act of 2023,” a bill that would permanently increase base pay for Forest Service and Department of the Interior wildland firefighters. The bill would also provide a new kind of premium pay, Incident Response Premium Pay, for all responders. This will help ensure we are able to recognize the critical role collateral duty firefighters (or “militia”) play in ensuring we are successful in our wildland fire mission. A summary of the bill and the bill language is available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.
Below is a breakdown of what the bill would do:
Special salary table for wildland firefighters
The bill would enact a new increased, permanent GS scale pay table for wildland firefighters in primary or secondary covered positions. These special base rates can also be applied by the Secretary to wage grade employees who work in fire. The chart below illustrates the increase the proposed special salary table will provide to current base pay levels.
|GS Level||Percentage of Increase|
Because the increase is to basic pay, locality pay will be added on top of it. Additionally, the increase to basic pay means it counts toward retirement calculations, which the BIL pay supplement did not do.
Wildland fire incident response premium pay
The bill would create a new kind of premium pay for all incident responders. This premium pay would be applied on suppression incidents, prescribed fires and severity (they must all exceed 36 hours). Employees would receive this premium pay for a qualifying incident outside their official duty station or for an eligible incident within their official duty station when they are assigned to a fire camp or other designated field location. The premium will be calculated as a daily rate that reflects 450% of the employee’s hourly rate of basic pay. This calculation replaces the Administration’s proposal for incident standby pay while maintaining the compensation level.
The bill contains limitations:
- Daily rates cannot exceed the maximum rate of basic pay for GS-10 Step 10
- The annual cap for this premium is $9,000 per incident responder
Employees will still receive overtime and hazard pay as currently calculated. Like other premium pay, Incident Response Premium Pay would not count toward fire retirement calculations.
The bill also codifies the agency’s current practice of providing three days of rest and recuperation leave following a 14-day assignment. Finally, the bill requires the Forest Service and DOI to do an assessment to compare wildland firefighters’ total compensation under this framework to that in 2023 (i.e. compare this to BIL) and provides the ability to make adjustments to premium pay to ensure the amounts are consistent.
There are still a lot of steps to go before this becomes final. Changes may happen along the way, just like with any piece of legislation. Rest assured that, if asked, we will advise against modifications that would impact employee compensation and the bipartisan support currently behind the bill. We also know we need appropriations to support the new pay levels, which we requested in the President’s FY 24 Budget.
A lot of people in Congress are committed to addressing the pending shortfall of firefighter pay funding, as are President Biden, Secretary Vilsack, Under Secretary Wilkes, Chief Moore, myself and all our leaders in the agency. We remain committed to doing everything we can to ensure all our wildland firefighters are rewarded for the dangerous, grueling work they do to protect communities, infrastructure and natural resources. We will keep you all informed as legislation progresses through Congress.
We will be scheduling a town hall/all employee call in the future to further explain the proposed legislation and answer as many questions as we can that you may have. Stay tuned!
June 20, 2023
We understand that it has been a challenging time for everyone, especially those affected by the fiscal cliff regarding the temporary pay increases. I am committed to informing and empowering all of you with the latest information. This update is one way of fulfilling that promise and ensuring you all have the information you need during this stressful time.
Our team is actively engaging with stakeholders to implement the new wildland firefighter series. The process requires thorough attention to detail, and we are taking time to ensure its proper execution. We have received approval for an extension to implement the 194 positions identified for the new series. In collaboration with the Department of the Interior, we have developed consistent position descriptions for GS-02 through GS-10.
We also understand the importance of consistency and have created an opt-in tool for employees to choose whether to remain in their current series or move to the new wildland firefighter series. We have sought feedback from union members to ensure the tool meets everyone's needs. We plan to begin the opt-in process once the position descriptions are returned from the USDA and posted to the position description library for employees and supervisors to review. While we do not have a definite date for the position descriptions, we understand the urgency of making them accessible to everyone as soon as possible to facilitate the implementation process.
The temporary pay increases for firefighters authorized under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will continue through the end of the fiscal year. We are doing everything we can to inform and educate members of Congress on the potential consequences of the pay cliff. Many congressional members and their staff are engaged in this effort, and we have our foot on the gas pedal to ensure every member on key committees has the information needed regarding Congress’s ability to enact permanent pay increases.
I have been part of a team with DOI and OPM leaders to brief congressional staff in the last few weeks, including a briefing for over 30 Senate staff hosted by the bipartisan Senate Wildfire Caucus this past Monday, June 12. They are interested in finding ways to provide firefighters with more consistent and predictable pay while reducing reliance on hazardous duty pay and overtime. The intent is to alleviate some of the physical and mental strain experienced by firefighters and provide them with more opportunities for rest while still earning a competitive wage.
Other congressional staff have been engaging in numerous discussions with the DOI and Forest Service, reviewing proposals, and asking important questions. The recent hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources allowed both agencies to provide testimony and address concerns, and gave me the opportunity to emphasize the urgent need to avert the pay cliff. You can watch the hearing here.
We want you to be confident that we are committed to keeping you informed throughout the process. We understand how important these updates are for the wildland fire community, and we are determined to provide firefighters with the necessary support and assistance. We will promptly share more information with you as we receive it.
April 17, 2023
As promised in my last update, we have developed a set of frequently asked questions related to the legislative proposal submitted to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget. The proposal seeks to modernize the compensation structure for the federal wildland fire management workforce. It is fully supported by the president's FY 2024 budget and includes funding to increase pay permanently, improve mental and physical health support, add more permanent hires, and expand housing options. The permanent pay reforms require authorizing legislation, and we are committed to working with congressional leaders to make these critical improvements a reality. Please keep in mind that the information is subject to change as the legislative process continues.
Here are a few highlights of the proposed legislation. If enacted:
- A new salary table for wildland firefighters would be put in place that increases base pay the most at the lowest GS levels.
- Wage grade employees who qualify as wildland firefighters would receive increased base pay.
- A new category of pay called “incident standby premium pay” would provide 50% of the employee’s hourly rate of basic pay for nine hours for every 24-hour duty period for both prescribed fires and wildfires (generally those that are longer than 36 hours).
- The pay cap would be increased and the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior would receive the authority to waive this pay cap during particularly challenging fire years.
We are scheduling town halls with wildland firefighters in all regions in the coming weeks so that we can discuss the proposed legislation in more detail and discuss other issues on your minds.
April 4, 2023: Pay & series implementation update
I’m happy to provide another update on what’s happening with firefighter pay and implementation of the wildland firefighter job series. This work is part of larger ongoing effort to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. As you read in the Chief’s Forest Service FY24 budget update, we are working with Congress on firefighter compensation reform. This includes a permanent base pay increase for all firefighters, incident standby pay, capacity increases of approximately 970 more firefighters and much-needed housing facility maintenance and repair. The White House submitted legislation to Congress last week to make these workforce improvements a reality. We will post a set of frequently asked questions related to the draft bill language as soon as possible.
It also includes funding to continue our joint Federal Wildland Firefighter Health and Wellbeing Program with the Department of the Interior to address the unique experiences and mental health challenges of wildland firefighters. I will be attending the Joint DOI/Forest Service Wildland Firefighter Behavioral Health and Wellbeing Strategic Action Planning Summit next week with leaders from both agencies. There, we will roll up our sleeves and work alongside qualified mental health experts and professionals to develop this program further.
Wildland firefighters have received more than $250 million in temporary pay supplements through Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding. We estimate these funds will be expended by the end of this fiscal year. Congress will need to pass legislation for us to implement a permanent pay solution. For many firefighters, the temporary supplements have simply provided a living wage and they rely on premium pay from fire assignments to get ahead. It is possible that the current Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding could run out before Congress advances legislation for a long-lasting pay solution. This may result in firefighter pay returning to pre-supplement levels. We are looking at mitigation measures to prevent pay reductions, but we need firefighters to plan for this possibility. Of course, as soon as Congress enacts a permanent pay solution, we will work to get those monies into pockets as quickly as possible.
As to the job series, Washington Office Fire and Aviation Management, with support from Human Resources Management, continues to work diligently on implementation. Field subject matter experts from regional fire organizations have been reviewing current position descriptions and HRM classifiers have been reclassifying fire positions to move them, when appropriate, into the new 0456 series. Classifiers also have identified positions that are eligible for fire retirement coverage. These eligible positions will be sent to the department for a final decision. This work is expected to be completed by August 2023. We are also building in intentional time for employees, the union and supervisors to engage in this process. You may have heard we asked for, and were granted, an extension until December 2023 for this phase of the series implementation. This process is complex, and we asked for more time to get this feedback and transparently share the steps in this process.
Once the classification work is done, HRM will determine how many and which employees occupy positions moving into the new 0456 series and notify those employees and their supervisors. Employees can choose to “opt in” to the new series, as outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, or remain in their current one. We recognize that employees may not feel they have enough information to make that decision right away. Therefore, we will provide multiple opportunities to opt in over one year. This process is still under development, and we have more work to do on the implementation strategy.
The Department of the Interior has been on this journey with us every step of the way. They, too, have been working within their processes and systems to implement the new series and we remain aligned in much of this work. However, DOI will implement the new series by announcing open 0456 positions this fire year. They will migrate employees to the new series sooner because the size and scope of their workforce is much smaller than ours.
We will continue to communicate with you about DOI’s intentions and, more importantly, to provide the “why” behind our different pace with regular updates on these efforts. We look forward to future engagements with the fire community.
Feb. 10, 2023: Update
As of Jan. 1, our wildland firefighters have received $215 million dollars in temporary pay supplements from Congress through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. While there is a limit to the money available for this supplement, our goal is that there will be no disruption to firefighters’ checkbooks between the end of this temporary funding source and the start of a permanent pay solution. Of course, that timing is dependent on Congress taking action, but we will do everything we can to make the case for them to do so. The details of the permanent pay solution are still close hold, but our goal is to be as close as possible to the pay levels currently being seen through the law. We’ll update you here as soon as the details are released in the outyear budget.
We aren’t taking a victory lap just yet. There are still 400 outstanding individual cases that require individualized analysis. The HRM Pay Branch is working through them as quickly as they can. We cannot express enough how much we appreciate your patience as we find and resolve issues around pay.
The agency has been continuing to make progress on the Wildland Firefighter classification series. This process is complex, as it should be. What may feel like unnecessary bureaucracy on the ground is a tangible example of the checks and balances that characterize our form of government. The checks and balances we go through during this process ensure the position descriptions are validated by the people who provide all manner of support to the firefighters on the ground, from staffing to retirement benefits. As soon as we are able to share details about the new series, we will find ways to make that information accessible to all fire employees.
Nov. 21, 2022: Update on wildland firefighter pay, classification series
Our Human Resources Management Pay Branch is processing 9,087 outstanding Fair Labor Standards Act payments associated with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Non-exempt employees should see deposits on or around Nov. 28. These payments are well ahead of the original estimated settlement date of January 2023. HRM Pay is calculating payments for exempt employees who performed non-exempt work during the covered period.
Once these FLSA payments are handled, HRM Pay will be able to prioritize fulfilling payments to employees who have separated from federal service, outstanding individual cases and people who transferred to the Forest Service from Department of the Interior. One request this hardworking group has: If you have already submitted a ticket, please do not resubmit a new ticket. Duplicate cases slow the entire process for everyone. We are very aware this work is time consuming and often thankless. Especially appropriate during this Thanksgiving week, I’d like to appreciate the diligent work our HRM Pay staff is doing and say THANK YOU from all of us in the wildland fire community. These colleagues have gone above and beyond in this effort, and it shows!
Work also continues toward the wildland firefighter classification series. We are nearing completion of initial position description reviews and anticipate the last two groups of PDs will have their initial reviews completed by February 2023. We have received valued input from union and non-union employees and, as a result, we are exploring modernizing position descriptions. To this end, we are working with our interior counterparts on standardizing PDs between agencies where it makes sense.
Thank you for your service to the American people and thank you for your input as we strive to support you in your work. We look forward to sharing more successes with you in 2023!
Oct. 28, 2022: Update on wildland firefighter pay
Our Human Resources Management Pay Branch continues to work nonstop to ensure wildland firefighters receive the appropriate temporary compensation increases outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This small but nimble group is prioritizing the payments that make the largest impacts on their fellow employees and the significant volume of tickets for specific cases.
Out of the 11,998 retention incentives submitted to NFC, the HR Pay team experienced errors with 435 employees. The errors were a result of multiple actions on these employees hitting the NFC system at the same time (WGIs, promotions, reassignments, TLPs, etc.). The team is working now to manually process each of these actions by the end of October and we expect payments within the next two pay periods. They will recheck for shortfalls and ensure these employees are made whole with appropriate lump sum payments. If you are one of these employees: I know it’s frustrating to experience a delay and have to open a ticket. But please know our HR team is working as quickly as possible to resolve these issues.
Here is a quick summary of the other tasks our HRM team is working on:
- Final calculations for FLSA adjustments are being reviewed this week.
- Outstanding balances are scheduled to be settled by the end of January 2023.
- Payments for employees who have transferred to the Forest Service from DOI or vice versa are being handled expeditiously.
- Separation payments are addressed promptly.
In all instances, the experts in the Pay Branch are conscientiously reviewing individual cases to ensure deposits are accurate. It takes time to serve all Forest Service wildland firefighters, but the effort is worth it. We don’t want anyone to get a bill from Uncle Sam for an overpayment!
Washington Office staff are also working on a permanent pay solution with OPM, OMB and DOI to take effect when the BIL funds are exhausted. This work is exceptionally detailed and takes time. We continue to appreciate your patience and understanding that we are doing our best work on behalf of our valued coworkers.
Sept. 16, 2022: Update from Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera: Wildland Firefighter series
Classification and FAM subject matter experts are working conscientiously to implement the new Wildland Firefighter series. I thank them for their hard work on the implementation thus far.
Through our outreach, we have received feedback concerned that our ambitious implementation timeline does not provide an opportunity to modernize position descriptions to describe the critical and complex work of our wildland firefighters more accurately.
I want to take this opportunity to thank those in the field participating in the process and let you know we are acting upon your input. We reached out to the Office of Personnel Management and requested additional time to complete the implementation of the new series. OPM has verbally granted our request. We will continue seeking clarity with our classification team, OPM and Department of Interior colleagues to address the concerns and the associated timelines. As we progress, we will continue communicating with you through this outlet.
As stated before, I understand there is much at stake regarding the new series. I want to do everything possible to ensure we do this right the first time, even if that requires more time. It is that important. Thank you for your patience, interest and engagement in this effort.
Aug. 15, 2022: Update from Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera: firefighter increased payments
We last updated you all on this topic on June 16 in this forum, soon followed by the announcement on firefighter pay and series on June 21.
Our Human Resources Management Pay Branch has been hard at work ensuring that wildland firefighters are provided the temporary increase in compensation as outlined in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The agency successfully delivered the first retroactive payout covering the time from Oct. 1, 2021, through May 21, 2022. Firefighters began receiving biweekly payments effective July 3, 2022. They will continue to receive biweekly payouts until the funds are exhausted, projected to be sometime after September 2023.
We know folks may be wondering where their second retroactive payment is. We wanted to be sure to share with you that it is in the process of being uploaded to the National Finance Center payroll system. The payout was initially scheduled to be paid out to eligible employees on Aug. 8 but, unfortunately, due to technical issues, those payments could not be made in time. HRM plans to have the additional income to employees on or around Aug. 22, depending on the individual’s financial institution. That payment will cover from May 22 through July 2, 2022.
Please ensure that Fire & Aviation Management personnel are aware of this delay. WO FAM and HRM will continue to provide additional updates as necessary. As always, we appreciate your continued support in these efforts.
You’re also likely well aware that the much-appreciated funding we received in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for these pay increases is temporary in nature, projected to be exhausted sometime after September 2023. I want to assure you that the administration is committed to working with Congress to find a permanent pay solution in FY 2024. That is my top priority: Please know we are working closely with the departments of Agriculture and Interior, the Office of Personnel Management and the White House on this effort.
We will continue to communicate with you often on these matters, as well as the development of the new wildland firefighter series. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to join a regional town hall in recent weeks to discuss these topics and get answers to your questions. I look forward to continuing to hear from you in future roundtables.
June 16, 2022: Update from Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera: firefighter occupational series and increased payments
We last updated you all on the firefighter occupational series and the increased payment that is funded in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law on June 7. We’re committed to continuing to provide you the information we do have—even if we don’t know all the details or timing. We heard your feedback loud and clear.
Announcements about the pay and series are close at hand. The Forest Service continues to work with our colleagues in the Department of the Interior, Office of Personnel Management and USDA to get these over the finish line. We also met with the Forest Service Council of the National Association of Federal Employees and the National Association of Federal Employees this week to share information on the status of these provisions. Our goal remains to provide this increased payment to as many of you as possible nationwide, at the highest rate possible, and make it retroactive to Oct. 1, 2021. We are doing everything we can to meet the goal of paychecks in firefighters’ pockets by the end of this month or the middle of next month. We know that’s critical as we enter the busiest part of the fire year.
I want to reiterate what we said on June 7—we know you are frustrated that these key Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provisions have not been implemented. We understand your frustration and thank each and every one of you for your patience. Implementation has taken longer than any of us could have expected, but getting it right is important. And this increased payment will be a positive step forward—and a good stepping-stone toward long-term solutions. Congress provided enough funding for approximately two years—so now we can begin working on a longer-term solution. We want to work with you to build support for long-term solutions that address core issues including portal-to-portal pay, housing issues and firefighter health.
When the announcement is made, we will send it far and wide as quickly as possible. We know firefighters will have questions on the particulars of the pay and the series. To answer those questions, we will provide FAQs which will be updated as needed. Our Human Resources team will also be standing by to help answer questions.
Again, thank you for everything you all do to serve the American people. Together, we will get this done.
June 7, 2022: Update from Deputy Chief Jaelith Hall-Rivera: firefighter occupational series and increased payments
In the next few weeks, we will make announcements about the firefighter occupational series and the increased payment that is funded in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. We support our federal wildland firefighters and know these BIL provisions are necessary to properly recognize the dangerous and stressful work you do on behalf of the American people.
We have encountered recruitment and retention challenges nationwide. We want this increased payment to include as many of you as possible, at the highest rate possible, and make it retroactive to October 1, 2021.
We know you are frustrated that these key BIL provisions have not been implemented. We understand your frustration and thank each and every one of you for your patience. Implementation has taken longer than any of us could have expected but getting it right is important.
This increased payment will be a positive step forward – and a good steppingstone towards long-term solutions. Congress provided enough funding for approximately two years – so now we can begin working on a longer-term solution. We want to work with you to leverage these coming announcements to build support for long-term solutions that address core issues including portal-to-portal pay, housing issues and firefighter health.
I recently hosted two Town Halls to answer questions about these important issues and to listen to your concerns. If you were unable to attend or would like to see that conversation again, we have posted a recording below. You must be logged onto the Forest Service network to view it.
Again, thank you for your continued patience. Together, we will get this done.
February 2, 2022: Update: Wildland firefighter pay, classification in infrastructure law
Recently, the secretary and Chief announced a new national strategy to confront the wildfire crisis facing the nation, focusing on dramatically increasing the scale of forest health treatments over the next decade. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides nearly $3 billion to reduce hazardous fuels and restore America’s forests and grasslands, along with investments in fire-adapted communities and post fire reforestation.
In addition to this critical funding for landscapes, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also put a spotlight on critical changes needed to support wildland firefighters by including provisions for pay increases and requiring the development of a new wildland firefighter series. A lot of work was ongoing prior to the bill being passed to ensure that the Forest Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Office of Personnel Management are coordinated in implementing these new provisions. Thousands of firefighting employees are waiting for information about the status of this work. There is significant complexity in implementing these new provisions, but Inside the Forest Service will be share updates frequently and transparently.
“Wildland Firefighter” occupational series: The Office of Personnel Management, USDA Forest Service and DOI have convened a workgroup that is meeting regularly.
- The Office of Personnel Management developed an action plan with milestones and a timeline.
- The workgroup is reviewing the previous GS-0456 classification standard, as well as other background documents (standard position descriptions, job analyses, recent job opportunity announcements, etc.) per the ask of OPM.
- The workgroup is reviewing all covered PDs to determine which will be retained for reclassification into the proposed new series.
- The group will hold focus group sessions February/March.
- The OPM requirement is to have this work completed by May.
Wildland Firefighter pay and compensation: OPM, Forest Service and DOI have a workgroup specific to pay and compensation.
- Both DOI and USDA have issued guidance to ensure no firefighter is paid less than $15 an hour.
- There is $600,000,000 available in the law for salaries and expenses ($480,000,000 for USDA FS and $120,000,000 for DOI)
- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law requires an increase in base salary of a federal wildland firefighter by lesser of $20,000 per year or 50% of salary after determination within a specified geographic area it is difficult to recruit or retain.
- Forest Service and DOI are working with OPM to determine how to define “wildland firefighter” as it pertains to this provision since the new occupational series is not yet in place.
- Initial analysis comparing average federal and state wages and house purchasing power for firefighter (delineated to common wildland fire geographic areas) is ongoing to help provide insights in how to determine “a specified geopathic area that is difficult to recruit or retain.”
- Goal is to have increased payments into paychecks by this summer, either by implementing this provision or using the awards payments model employed last year if we can’t fully implement this provision in FY 22.
Conversion to a more permanent workforce: Conversion of temporary wildland fire response positions to permanent, full-time positions available for fire response activities year-round.
- The $600,000,000 provided in the law also can also be used to convert not fewer than 1,000 seasonal firefighters (the total is across both USDA FS and DOI) to full-time, permanent, year-round employees and will reduce hazardous fuels on Federal land not fewer than 800 hours per year.
- The department and Forest Service are identifying personnel that may meet this requirement but recognize that it will likely be difficult for full-time employees to meet response requirements and conduct fuels reduction work 800 hours per year.
August 17, 2021: Implementation of new pay initiatives for wildland firefighters
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Our federal firefighters are an integral part of our agency and, as such, we must acknowledge that part of this workforce is at-risk: federal firefighters are leaving for other agencies or career endeavors. Due to wage disparities with states and other organizations, we have seen key highly trained personnel leave the Forest Service and we have also experienced some inability to recruit new employees into the agency. We must address this issue immediately, and we are proud to do so this year with the support of President Biden, Secretary Vilsack and Chief Moore.
As of pay period 16, firefighters and fire employees will receive incentive awards to help them reach the equivalent pay of $15 per hour. This is just one small step to fairly compensate our fire personnel. We know there is more we need to do in the long term around pay, benefits, title, job series, and mental health and well-being.
We will continue to work toward these other important goals, but they take more time and help from other parts of the federal government. These incentive awards are an immediate step we can take to ensure you are paid fairly.
Incentive awards will come this summer in the following ways:
- Temporary (1039) seasonal fire employees GS-9 and below and WG-8 and below: Temporary (1039) primary/secondary-covered positions for wildland firefighting, GS-9 and below and WG-8 and below, will receive an achievement cash award of $1,300 (resulting in an after-tax amount of $1000).
- Permanent full-time and permanent seasonal fire employees GS-9 and below and WG-8 and below: Permanent full-time and permanent seasonal primary/secondary-covered positions for wildland firefighting, GS-9 and below and WG-8 and below, will receive an achievement cash award equivalent to 10% of their base salaries for 1,040 hours (based on step 5 of grade and the locality pay for the “rest of the United States”).
- All GS-3 employees earning a basic rate of less than $15 per hour: Permanent and seasonal GS-3 employees who earn a basic rate of pay of less than $15 per hour will receive additional compensation in their achievement cash awards equal to or more than the difference between their current rate and $15 per hour for a tour of 1,040 hours, regardless of actual tour. This has been calculated to be an additional $1,612.
These awards should arrive in paychecks on your normal pay day for pay period 16, on or about Aug. 23. You can find a list of FAQs on the HRM website (internal link). If you have issues with your paycheck that pay period or you feel you have not been compensated per the description above, you should work with your supervisory chain of command to reconcile the matter. Supervisors who need support with pay issues can contact Lisa Renken, Washington Office Fire and Aviation Management.
Since January 2020, we have endured long and drought-riddled fire seasons resulting in significant and unfortunate loss to our communities, greatly accentuated by the unknowns of COVID-19, international support to Australia and the staffing of vaccination centers. We know this has been incredibly difficult, and we thank you for all you do.
You are valued, and we hope we can gain your trust as we move forward to make long-lasting changes.