U.S. senators request GAO review of wildlands firefighter workforce

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A group of senators recently requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) assess federal firefighter hiring and retention at five agencies responsible for wildland fire management.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in forwarding correspondence to the GAO outlining the request as a means of identifying barriers to recruitment and retention of federal firefighters at the wildland fire agencies; assessing the seasonal firefighter employment model used by wildland fire agencies and make recommendations for transitioning to a full-time firefighting workforce; and reviewing the current job series and pay scale of Forest Service and Interior Department wildland firefighters to ensure their pay is commensurate with state firefighting agencies while reflecting training requirements and the hazardous conditions.

“As the fire season becomes more intense, it is also growing longer in duration as a result of climate change,” the lawmakers wrote to GAO Comptroller General Gene Dodaro. “The Forest Service estimates that current fire seasons are lasting 78 days longer than they did in 1970. Wildfires in the West are now a near-constant threat, and we can no longer afford to rely on just a seasonal firefighting workforce.”

Considering the increasing threat, it is crucial federal agencies have the firefighting capacity and resources they need, the senators concluded.

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