USDA Secretary Vilsack Responds to NFFE Letters on Wildland Firefighter Pay, Job Series, and Housing

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (left) with NFFE President Randy Erwin
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (left) with NFFE President Randy Erwin

September 1, 2022

Last week, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded to NFFE’s correspondence on necessary reforms for federal wildland firefighters. This summer, NFFE National President Randy Erwin sent four separate letters to Secretary Vilsack, emphasizing issues with firefighter pay, their occupational series, and housing for Forest Service employees.

In addressing wildland firefighter pay, Secretary Vilsack highlighted the agency’s efforts to work with DOI and OPM to distribute special funding required by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which provided significant pay raises for almost every wildland firefighter across the country. In addition, Sec. Vilsack stated, “We agree that we need a permanent pay solution, and we will continue to work with DOI and OPM to accomplish that,” and “we are working with DOI and OPM on a joint FY24 proposal for a permanent updated, competitive, and equitable pay structure, along with a support system that will address the many challenges that have plagued our wildland firefighter workforce for decades.”  

Regarding the firefighter job series, Sec. Vilsack indicated the new series will be implemented in the coming months and that current employees will have the option to stay in their current series or to be placed in the new series. The letter also states, “we will continue to explore overtime, hazard pay, portal to portal and differentials as they pertain to the new series.”

Lastly, Secretary Vilsack wrote, “The Forest Service recognizes that housing is a dilemma across the nation and particularly for Forest Service employees, including firefighters…USDA continues to work to find solutions that will benefit all employees and resolve many of the disparities you have identified.”

“It is very encouraging to see that Secretary Vilsack understands the issues facing wildland firefighters,” said NFFE National President Randy Erwin. “When we met with the Secretary in his office earlier this summer, he was committed to addressing these problems and finding ways to ensure NFFE-IAM members on the front lines of the fire crisis are taken care of. NFFE will continue to work with USDA, DOI, OPM, as well as lawmakers in Congress and leaders in the White House to finally address all these critical issues with permanent solutions.”

Read the letter in full here.