The R-5 Regional Office, the FAM Director for the Forest Service in Washington, the Legislative Affairs Director for the Forest Service, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, the National Federation of Federal Employees and the Chief of Staff and Program Manager for the Office of Personnel Management all support the creation of a separate & distinct wildland firefighter classification series.
That said, the lack of initiation by one of these entities to make this happen sooner rather than later is both frustrating & mystifying.
A bit of history: During a congressional field hearing outside of Las Vegas in 2005 on the FWFSA’s portal to portal legislation, H.R. 408, the representative from OPM made a commitment that the agency would undertake the development of a wildland firefighter classification series.
In early 2006, OPM sent word to Civil Service Committee Chairman Jon Porter, (R-NV) that the issue was OPM’s top priority for the 2nd quarter of 2006. However the Congressman felt OPM was not moving promptly enough on the issue and asked the FWFSA if we’d mind if he introduced legislation to mandate OPM create the series. We drafted H.R. 5697, the Wildland Firefighter Classification Act that was subsequently introduced by Congressman Porter. The bill was placed on what is called the "consent calendar" which is a series of bills which are uncontroversial and don’t need debate. The consent calendar, as was the case in 2006, is usually taken up near the end of the congressional session. In the case of H.R. 5697, this was December 6, 2006.
Federal Wildland Firefighters across the country tuned into CSPAN to watch both Democrats & Republicans refer to these employees as "firefighters and heroes, not technicians." With that said, the House of Representatives passed the bill. We had "greased the wheels" on the Senate side with the leadership of it’s Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee which would get the bill to the Senate floor. To this day I can’t tell you what happened other than we were told the bill was literally "lost" on the way to the Senate floor. I was stunned to learn how frequently that happens.
Since then, we have been pushing the above-referenced entities on the issue. Additionally, as a back up to what we would have expected to be a relatively simple administrative process, we have included the classification language in our current legislation, H.R. 2858 in case the agencies need a little nudge from Congress to get the ball rolling.
So now we have a consensus that a series should be created. The caveat from OPM was that if the title of a series expressly identifies the hazardous nature of the occupation, than the employee isn’t eligible for Hazard Pay. As a result, the legislation in 2006, as now includes language that ensures Hazard Pay is not lost with the creation of a wildland firefighter series.
So what now? We are at a point where OPM tells us they’ll do what the Forest Service asks them to do while the Forest Service tells us they’ll do what OPM tells them to do. Go figure. They are basically across the street from each other in DC, one would think this isn’t rocket science.
In the meantime we have several members of congress looking to once again introduce a stand-alone bill and get it back on the consent calendar and ensure this time it doesn’t get lost. Randy Moore is not in a position to arbitrarily create a wildland firefighter series. There are a number of perceptions among R-5 firefighters about Mr. Moore and the current leadership of the Regional Office. I discussed these perceptions, as well as the hiring issues and others with the Deputy Regional Forester & the Fire & Aviation Management Director in Vallejo last month.
No one is more frustrated about the slow progress of change than I. That said, we keep pushing. If these and other issues are important to wildland firefighters, they need to consider lending their voices to the effort through membership in organizations like the FWFSA. Sadly, advocating before Congress and getting your issues heard by some of the most powerful people in Government who can effect positive change is very expensive, time consuming and STRESSFUL. Thus what we do at the FWFSA is done out of sincere affection, admiration and respect for all of you. Wish we could do this for free. Wish we could have solved these issues a long time ago with the help of the USDA & DOI. The only option is persistence.
Casey Judd, President
Federal Wildland Fire Service Assn.