Employee Friday: Non-Federal Positions Doing Federal Work, FS Job Offer Withdrawal, and Fire/NonFire Unpleasantness

In the spirit of investigating what’s going on with the Keystone Agreements, I want to reiterate: we need to have a learning culture.  We need to be able to ask questions and get answers  We need to give multi-million dollar expenditures the same attention we would a  GS-5 rolling a four-wheeler (yes, we would do a lessons learned in the latter case).

So, in that vein, I really like wild turkeys, we have them in our neighborhood.  I also like the people at the National Wild Turkey Federation.  I do think questions need to be asked about the role, in general, of not-for-profits in carrying out government activities.

(1) Joint Positions.  For example, there’s a great job advertisement for a joint position with NRCS and NWTF in Wyoming to support private forest management. The duties sound just like an ordinary NRCS forester, without the federal employee benefits.  It’s a term position.  Again, as I’ve raised before with the seed orchard manager position in California, it seems to me that workers, professional, administrative, or technical, learn on the job and get better through time.  I’m not sure that this is a BIL or IRA funded effort, so again the question comes up,  do we care about learning? Or can’t we afford government employees- even on term appointments? Or?? I wonder  (1) Why is this better than hiring feds directly? (2) What kinds of positions does the USG consider for these kinds of agreements? All? Some? Based on..? 3) it seems to me (at the Forest Service, not NRCS)  that job permanence helps people stand up to the powers that be, based on their knowledge accumulated through time.  Is this kind of knowledge still valued, or will academics (“the science”) be talking to line officers who just came from Congressional staffs with political science degrees? What is the importance of local on-the-ground knowledge when it comes to wildlife, fisheries, silviculture, fuels practitioners, reforestation, and how is that reflected in the recruitment and retention of expertise in the US government?

On another note, when we dealt with partnerships in Region 2, some Supes were concerned that we would always do what partners wanted, and potentially never do other important things, including what the communities wanted.  I’m not so worried about that with NWTF, but it is an idea worth considering.  When the push is to partner, perhaps the easiest thing for FS folks to do is go with the flow and possibly hand over prioritization of projects to people at non-profits who are less readily accessible to the public.

(2)   FS Withdraws Job Offers for Non-Firefighters.  From an E&E News story:

As many as 350 pending job offers for positions not directly tied to fighting wildfire may be withdrawn, the Forest Service said, and future hiring through the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act will be more tightly controlled through Chief Randy Moore’s office.

In a June 27 memo to employees, later posted on the agency’s website, Moore cited a tight budget for the current fiscal year, in which Congress cut spending across federal departments. But he also noted a more optimistic scenario: The Forest Service isn’t losing as many employees to normal attrition as it would typically expect and thus doesn’t have as many slots to fill.

“To stay within budget and continue to deliver on our core mission, we must implement tighter controls on both internal and external hiring,” Moore said.

Moore outlined the new policy in the web posting, adding that hiring for positions such as aviation inspectors — which may not be fire positions but are related to firefighting — remains a topic of “deliberate conversations.”

The jobs most affected are external hires in permanent, non-fire-related positions. Internal hiring, which had been limited, will resume, Moore said, as officials consider career advancement “very important.”

Moore said the Forest Service will move ahead with 157 tentative job offers in positions such as line officers, law enforcement officers, resource assistants and “some hard-to-fill mission critical positions,” for example. And officials will lift a pause in hiring within the agency that was imposed in April.

In addition, Moore said, people hired through student employment programs will be allowed to convert to permanent Forest Service positions.

The pullback on hiring is the latest in an extended set of personnel challenges for the Forest Service. Moore warned employees in April that a strategic hiring assessment was necessary, and he’s repeatedly outlined to lawmakers the agency’s uphill climb to fill positions both for firefighters and non-fire employees.

In 2023, Moore told county officials at a conference that hiring for non-fire positions couldn’t keep pace with long-term attrition. More than 8,000 positions were lost over a decade, and Moore told the National Association of Counties he aimed to hire 4,000 people to address the gap, relying on contractors and local governments to fill remaining needs.

A tight job market at the time was to blame, Moore said.

In his latest memo, June 28, Moore said attrition overall has improved, from a typical level of 9 percent down to less than 5 percent.

“On one hand, we should celebrate that our staff are staying because they feel connected to the mission, they feel heard, and they are committed to improving our nation’s forests and grasslands,” he said.

As for me, I don’t think I’d be having “deliberate conversations” about ..aviation inspectors. Also I’d think prioritizing work itself and people needed to get it done (rather than new people in non-competitive programs) might work better.

(3) The Complaint Heard Round the Region at Least.

The Hotshot Wakeup  discusses this email kerfuflle in his podcast this week. I always thought careful consideration of when to hit “reply all” is an important work skill.  The basic story is that HR sent out an email asking (?) people to (ask their Congressfolk?) to support the Wildland Firefighter Paycheck Protection Act.  Someone was disgruntled about why firefighters should get it, explained and replied all.  I don’t have any of the emails.

10 thoughts on “Employee Friday: Non-Federal Positions Doing Federal Work, FS Job Offer Withdrawal, and Fire/NonFire Unpleasantness”

  1. Back around 2009, the FS instituted the “Vehicle Allocation Model” (VAM) that supposedly matched the needs of the Forests with available vehicles. I had a piece of crap, 2WD Ford Explorer that was several years old, and had broken down numerous times. Also, we had a big timber and fire RD, so I was out a lot, and continually stuck.

    As my “Exploder”, as we called it, was ready for a trade, I begged for a 4-WD vehicle. Nope, don’t even ask! Up until, Obama bought out the vehicles to save the auto industry – except for Ford. One day I came in and a new 4-WD Jeep was sitting ready for me to take possession.

    Well, the FS must have all the $ they need now because they are flush with new vehicles. More vehicles than they can possibly use!

    Maybe, just maybe, they could turn in some of these rigs to save enough to pay for a few hundred new employees!

    I imagine all those folks will just wait around until the funds become available, then accept those positions. Yeah, we’ll go with that…..

    • Jim, maybe that’s a strategy to stock up on vehicles prior to this Executive Order kicking in..
      “The United States Forest Service (USFS) is now testing the Ford F-150 Lightning as it begins to transition its 17,000 vehicles (fossil powered at the moment) to a rugged, sometimes off-road fleet of over 17,000 battery-electric vehicles. In addition to being used in remote areas, vehicles must be top-notch and withstand extreme weather conditions.

      The pilot program will assist the forest service in meeting the requirements of Executive Order 14057, Catalyzing America’s Clean Energy Economy Through Federal Sustainability. The order mandates that all new federal agency light-duty vehicle acquisitions be zero-emissions vehicles starting in 2027, with all other vehicle types following suit by 2035.” 2027 is not that far away..
      The Hotshot Wakeup has a rant on this in his archives as to wildfire vehicles. (where will they charge, etc.)

      • Nah, these are gas/diesel burners! Even hybrids lost favor in the fleet due to high cost of purchase. My hybrid escape (which I really liked) was replaced by a big old humpin’ Expedition, and still saved the gov money! Whims and rainbow fairy dust seems to be the moving force.

        I pity fire crews in electric vehicles, this won’t turn out well….. I saw a recent study saying almost 50% of EV owners are having buyers remorse. I suspect the new Administration will put a fast stop to the nonsense of EV’s for all…..

    • Send those trucks our way! lol we have trucks in rec that have over 111,000 miles on them. And to my knowledge no replacements in the works.

  2. The 2018 Farm Bill bestowed “Forest Service like” granting authority to the NRCS. In 2020, an “axis-of-evil” was formed in SW Colorado with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Colorado State Forest Service (CSFS), the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and the Southwest Conservation Corps to provide free forest management planning (My South West Forest https://mysouthwestforest.org) to owners of the regional non-industrial, private, forest (NIPF) lands, while there already was a thriving private sector, professional consulting forester economy serving the NIPF of SW Colorado, Northern New Mexico, NE Arizona and SE Utah with all and more of the services offered by the “axis-of-evil.” Consulting foresters who are at least “frenemies” banded together to thwart the “state-sponsored” grab of the NIPF market. Because the consultants were savvy and brought political heat to the CSFS State Forester, Colorado State Conservationist, President of AFF, Chief of the NRCS, and the CEO of the Southwest Conservation Corps the “axis-of-evil” lasted only one season. For all of that effort only one NIPF forest management plan was completed and the following year the program disbanded.

    The NRCS has a specific program for private sector consultants known as Technical Service Provider (TSP) (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/getting-assistance/technical-assistance/technical-service-providers) which requires AgLearn training and certification. The National Wild Turkey (NWTF) foresters are competing with private sector forestry consulting with a guarantee of salary without having the TSP certificates. (The vacancy announcement does not mention TSP qualifications.) The consultants have that TSP credential. And by-the-way NWTF is using NRCS funds to pay for the New Castle, WY position. I am fond of saying “this is the best government that money can buy”.

    Indeed, my national consulting forestry association is in the negotiations with NWTF to provide professional forestry services to assist them with their Forest Service stewardship agreement. NWTF has few if any foresters on their payroll.

    While these positions might seem to be fun and “great” jobs, private sector – consulting foresters offer more than some GS-8 entry level quasi-government term position.

    • Thanks, Pecos, this is a very interesting story.
      1) Do you have any idea who generated this idea and why? And why SW Colorado was chosen for the idea (let’s displace consulting foresters) ?
      2) Where does SAF certification fit in with these qualifications (if it does)?
      3) it sounds like Keystone agreements are in some sense, restructuring federal work from federal workers.

      • Sharon – –

        I’ll try to answer your questions with my reply following the question.

        1) Do you have any idea who generated this idea and why?

        The “free forestry program” was spun off of the South West Colorado Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative (RMRI) sponsored by the NWTF and the San Juan National Forest. The opportunistic NGO AFF and the USDA NRCS, along with the CSFS & the Southwest Conservation Corps sensed an opportunity to usurp forestry, conservation and land management for their own benefit, under an “all lands approach.”

        2) Where does SAF certification fit in with these qualifications (if it does)?

        The Society of American Foresters (SAF) certification is highly respected and important. The SAF and the consultants organization – Association of Consulting Foresters (ACF) are organizationally linked in terms of continuing forestry education (CFE), certification and science education. Indeed ACF in 1948 formed after SAF decided not to sponsor consultants. Dave Lewis a former SAF president is an ACF member. ACF is the “gold standard” of forestry.

        3) it sounds like Keystone agreements are in some sense, restructuring federal work from federal workers.

        Most “keystone” agreement NGO(s) are strong securing funding but weak in fundamentals including forestry/natural resource management skills.

        • If I put 1 and 3 together, the point seems to be to provide assistance for free to certain landowners in certain places, based on level of enthusiasm of certain groups. Hopefully the money pathway via NGOs to people who actually do work will become clearer as time goes on. In other places (in the same State) landowners have to pay for the same services. I’d feel better about that if it wasn’t fed and state $.

          • The delivery of professional forestry services in most of the US is distorted by subsidies and good intentions. The South East US has robust markets and great demand for its wood. Landowners there rely on consulting foresters to provide the necessary services. The state forestry agencies get out of the way. In Colorado, the CSFS is an appendage of Colorado State University. While CSFS charges $75.00/hr, the service still competes with consultants who have a higher burden rate than does a state sponsored agency. NGO(s) are unnecessarily burdensome and are co-opted by their federal masters. This is an excellent example of fiscal virga!
            Remember, unlike federal, state or NGO forestry, the consultant has a single fiduciary obligation – to the land owner and not to middle man paymasters.

    • AFF is in the middle of a lot of things lately. They also have a “keystone” agreement with the Forest Service now. And the first push of funds to that agreement will be for them to staff up with the appropriate skills to help support reforestation work in the Forest Service.


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