WASHINGTON, D.C. (February 2, 2017) — Yesterday, Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05) joined fellow Members of Congress in writing a letter to Kathleen McGettigan, Acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), urging the exemption of the Forest Service’s hiring of seasonal firefighters from the federal hiring freeze.
“Growing up in Northeastern Washington, I’ve seen the devastation that catastrophic wildfires can cause to a community. For those of us who live in areas prone to wildfires, it’s so important that the Forest Service has all the resources possible to keep our forests healthy and our communities safe,” said McMorris Rodgers. “I am so thankful to those who work and volunteer to help fight fires here in Washington and urge the Office of Personnel Management to respect the important safety needs of our community by exempting seasonal firefighters from this hiring freeze.”
Note: Over the past several years, Rep. McMorris Rodgers has met with local fire leaders, tribes, firefighters and officials to work to solve the issues facing the Forest Service and our region regarding wildfires. After hearing from those in Eastern Washington, Rep. McMorris Rodgers introduced the FORESTS Act to propose common-sense reforms to better manage our forests, incentivize local collaboration and decision-making, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and provide economic opportunities for rural communities. Most of this legislation was included in the House-passed Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 (H.R. 2647). Rep. McMorris Rodgers also co-sponsored the Wildfire Disaster Fund (H.R. 167) to help address the issue of the Forest Service borrowing funds from forest management and other accounts to fight wildfires, a practice known as “fire-borrowing.” Instead, this legislation would classify the worst fires as “disasters,” thus allowing firefighting efforts to be paid for outside of the Forest Service’s budget. The Congresswoman believes that at the end of the day, much more needs to be done, and she is seeking locally driven solutions — from people who know our forests best — to develop strategic partnerships than can provide better stewardship of our forests. She supports efforts like the local A to Z project, a public-private partnership to expand maintenance and treatment of the Colville National Forest and to increase local economic output through privately funded projects.
On January 23rd, President Trump signed a memorandum freezing the hiring of federal civilian employees in the executive branch. The memorandum provides that the heads of departments and agencies “may exempt from the hiring freeze any positions that it deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” It also states that the Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) may also “grant exemptions from this freeze where those exemptions are otherwise necessary.”
The full text of the letter is below:
February 1, 2017
U.S. Office of Personnel Management
1900 E. Street NW
Washington, DC 20415
Dear Acting Director McGettigan:
We write regarding the Administration’s recent decision to impose an across-the-board hiring freeze of federal workers. As Members of Congress who represent states impacted annually by wildfires, we are concerned this hiring freeze prohibits the U.S. Forest Service from hiring seasonal firefighters and other professionals in anticipation of wildfire season.
Upon taking office, the President signed a memorandum freezing hiring of federal civilian employees in the executive branch, with a stated exception of the military. On January 25, 2017, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued guidance directing agencies to hire workers offered a job on or before January 22nd and have documentation showing a start date of February 22nd or earlier. Agencies may revoke other existing job offers at their discretion. The OMB guidance gives OPM the authority to grant limited exceptions for national security or public safety.
According to the National Federation of Federal Employees, the Forest Service hired at least 6,200 seasonal workers for firefighting or firefighting-related duties in 2015. These seasonal firefighters supplement state and local firefighters to prepare for wildfire season and contain wildfires as they emerge. In order to ensure they are trained and ready for wildfire season, the Forest Service’s hiring process traditionally begins over the next several weeks with a series of job fairs in wildfire-prone states. We are concerned that this process will be interrupted, delayed, or prohibited by the Administration’s hiring freeze.
We recognize that additional guidance on this matter is forthcoming. If OPM determines that an exception to the Administration’s hiring freeze is necessary for the Forest Service to hire seasonal firefighters, we respectfully urge you to grant one for public safety purposes. Sufficient staffing at the Forest Service help keep our families, homes, and businesses safe from wildfires.
Should you have questions or need additional information, please contact Michael Wong with Congresswoman Sinema’s office at Michael.Wong@mail.house.gov. Thank you in advance for your consideration and your attention to this request.
Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Trent Franks (R-AZ), Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Scott Peters (D-CA), and Dan Newhouse (R-WA).