IDAHO-Wednesday October 26, 2011-In letters to the Chairmen of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee along with Ranking members of both committees, the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association (FWFSA) challenged those in Congress who continue to attack the federal workforce and suggest that it is the federal workforce that is responsible for our Nation’s fiscal ills and thus that same federal workforce who should shoulder the burden of fixing the budget deficit.
The FWFSA is a nationwide employee association comprised primarily of federal wildland firefighters employed by all five federal land management agencies. Although it’s diverse membership includes those occupying all FIRE positions from entry-level to fire chief, many members are contractually represented by the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE).
In its letter to the Committees, the FWFSA suggested that the continued assault on the federal workforce through proposals to extend the current pay freeze and implement other “adverse” actions “make great sound bites” for politicians and may be the ‘easy & expedient’ solution but fails to recognize the fact that in many instances, the results will have the opposite effect as that intended and actually increase the costs to taxpayers.
“Almost on a daily basis we hear those from both sides of the aisle claim to be listening to the American People. While it is likely Republicans are listening to Republicans and Democrats are listening to Democrats, absolutely no one is listening to the federal workforce. Especially those at or near the bottom of the federal pay scale who risk their lives for this Country and its citizens” said Casey Judd, FWFSA Executive Director. As a result the FWFSA is asking both committees to hold hearings so they can listen to those federal employees and become more educated with regards to the consequences of their proposals. “Those that are expected to risk their lives to protect our Nation’s federal assets (federal firefighters employed by the DOD) and those who risk their lives protecting our Nation’s natural resources and its citizens and their real & personal property from the ravages of wildfires are consistently found at or near the bottom of the federal pay scale” said Judd. “These brave men & women occupy many of the lowest grades in the federal government and struggle to make a living and raise a family at or near the poverty level.”
Judd continued “It is our firm belief that federal employees at or near the bottom of the federal pay scale in any federal agency have a far greater insight into where the fiscal waste & mismanagement is in their agency and how to eliminate it than anyone in Congress.”
“The current fiscal crisis was not created by the federal workforce,” said Judd. It is a result of decades of policies from both sides of the aisle. Whether borne of ignorance or political posturing, the current anti-federal employee sentiment allows some in Congress to avoid addressing the obvious... poor Congressional oversight of the tax dollars it appropriates to federal agencies being a root cause of excessive federal spending.
“Neither the $1.3 trillion associated with the debt ceiling debate or the Administration’s recent order for federal agencies to cut their budgets across the board by 5% will do anything to ensure that fiscal waste and mismanagement within federal agencies will be eliminated,” said Judd. Federal money managers will continue to find ways to inoculate their fiscal waste & mismanagement from such cuts. As a result, those at or near the bottom of the federal pay scale and Americans who rely on federal programs and services will continue to be adversely affected.
“Rather, said Judd, ‘Congress should re-evaluate their lax oversight of dollars already appropriated to federal agencies to ensure those tax dollars are being expended as required.” There is no doubt that substantial fiscal waste & mismanagement can be found in most federal agencies. “Without adequate oversight, these agencies have been allowed to waste staggering sums of tax dollars. Perhaps adequate oversight would actually eliminate the need for draconian cuts to the federal budget.”
Rather than taking the time to ensure tax dollars are used wisely, some in Congress believe meat cleaver, slash & burn cuts to the federal budget and attacks on the federal workforce will fix the budget deficit problem overnight. “The problem was not created overnight and it cannot be corrected overnight and certainly not on the backs of our federal workforce” said Judd.
The FWFSA has spent years appearing before both Senate & House committees articulating the fiscal waste and mismanagement found within the federal land management agency wildfire programs, most particularly that of the Forest Service. Despite such findings being validated by Congress, the GAO and even government agency OIGs, the waste continues.
In fact, last session the FWFSA sponsored legislation introduced in the House that would do “exactly what both Republicans & Democrats say they want/need to do i.e. reduce federal spending; create a more effective & efficient federal program and save taxpayers perhaps $100 million or more each year.” “We got a lot of nodding of the heads from staff & members” said Judd ‘but little traction.” This session under an even more divisive Congress, we can’t seem to get the time of day.”
The FWFSA insists that continued attacks on the federal workforce will result in the continued loss of inherently less expensive federal wildland firefighters. As a result, land management agencies will continue their over-reliance on more costly non-federal fire resources thus inflating the costs of wildfire suppression needlessly. Despite the claims of so-called ‘experts” that climate and the increase in the Wildland Urban Interface are the cause of wildfire suppression costs skyrocketing, the FWFSA believes it is the costs of unnecessary non-federal resources more than anything else that has driven up the costs.
“Climate and the WUI can be mitigated to significant degrees by proper preparedness” claims the FWFSA. However when federal fire resources are lost as a result of firefighters seeking better pay & benefits, retirement & early retirement and those losses are coupled with mismanaged dollars appropriated to provide said federal resources in the field to keep fires small and thus less costly, the only way for federal agencies to fill in the gaps is to bring in more costly non-federal resources.
For more information, please contact the FWFSA at www.fwfsa.org or by email at cjudd@ fwfsa.org or by phone at 208-775-4577.