May 2022 is the target date to release the final policy for federal employees
The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has created an action plan for the development of a series of jobs to more accurately reflect the work currently performed by wildland firefighters (WLFF) employed by five agencies federal. For the past 50 years or more, WLFFs working for the Departments of Agriculture (DoA) and Interior (DoI) have been categorized into Forest Technician or Rangeland positions. Their compensation is significantly different from that of firefighters who work for the private sector, municipal departments, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and private contractors who fight wildfires for the DoA and DoI.
The schedule created by the OPM is very ambitious for a task to be accomplished by half a dozen federal agencies. It sets May of this year as the target for the release of the final policy.
During these five months, the OPM expects to:
- Take stock of the current situation and compare the work done by firefighters inside and outside the agencies;
- Survey federal agencies to find out what work they need to do;
- Create groups and sub-groups to meet regularly for job classification;
- Hold focus groups;
- Obtain feedback from agency leaders;
- Meet with HR experts and agency leaders to discuss findings and recommendations;
- Draft policies, guidance and/or tools for the work of wildland firefighters (WLFF) within the federal government;
- Receive comments and feedback from agencies;
- Issue final policy in May 2022.
Once the new WLFF job series is developed, the five agencies must adopt it and convert their firefighters into firefighting positions. If the series demands a higher salary, that could become a deal breaker. But if there are as many vacancies today as there were last May, they probably have enough unspent salary money to cover the difference. But I would be surprised if there were many working in the new series before the start of the fiscal year which begins on October 1, 2022 at the earliest.
In a perfect world, the development of the WLFF job series would have been started decades ago by direction of the five federal agencies that employ a total of about 15,000 of these firefighters (if all positions were filled): Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Forest Service. Instead, they and the OPM are being forced to do the right thing by bipartisan infrastructure legislation passed by Congress in November 2021.
The federal WLFF has been recommending a realistic job streak for decades, but over the past year their voices have been louder than ever and members of Congress have taken notice. A relatively new non-profit organization, Basic Forest Firefighters, has been one of those voices that help educate the public and lawmakers.
Two other bills have been introduced in recent months that address federal WLFF compensation issues, HR 4274 Wildland Firefighters Fair Compensation Act, and HR 5631 Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act. Brief descriptions of the bills can be found in the article we published on October 26. Legislation was introduced, referred to five committees, and a hearing was held by the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands.
Thanks and hats off to Ben and Matt.