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The pay increases, authorized as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law, will be retroactive to October 2021.
President Biden on Tuesday announced another round of pay increases for federal firefighters, as well as a framework to improve compensation, recruitment and retention on a more permanent basis.
Last fall, Congress included provisions aimed at reforming federal firefighters’ compensation in the bipartisan infrastructure law, including increasing the pay of federal firefighters in regions where it is difficult to recruit or retain them by $20,000 per year or 50% of their current base salary, whichever is lower. In May, the National Federation of Federal Employees urged the White House to authorize those raises for all federal firefighters, citing a sizeable staffing shortage at the start of wildfire season.
According to a press release, the White House adopted that approach, authorizing all federal wildland firefighters to receive those pay raises, and the administration made them retroactive to Oct. 1, 2021. Firefighters will begin to see the pay raise, and installment payments of back pay, beginning later this month and running through July and August.
The administration said that the $600 million appropriated for firefighter pay by the bipartisan infrastructure law will cover the cost of those raises through the end of fiscal 2023. Between now and then, officials said they will work with Congress to fund those raises permanently.
“Today’s new steps, already paid for by the bipartisan infrastructure law, will temporarily put back pay into firefighters’ pockets, increasing their biweekly checks by up to 50% of their annual base salary for two years,” Biden said in a statement. “But we know there is more work to do, especially as climate change fuels more wildfires. I will do everything in my power, including working with Congress to secure long-term funding, to make sure these heroes keep earning the paychecks—and dignity—they deserve.”
In addition, the Office of Personnel Management announced that it has created a new wildland fire management occupational series for firefighters, which officials said will provide a better career ladder for federal firefighters and make it easier for agencies to recruit new firefighters. For decades, federal firefighters have been part of the forestry technician job classification, which served as a catch-all for a variety of jobs related to forest management.
“The Biden-Harris administration has made major progress in addressing challenges that have plagued the wildland firefighter workforce for decades,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement. “OPM is proud to help in this effort by taking the necessary step of creating a wildland firefighter occupation series—something that hasn’t existed for 50 years and is especially crucial at a time when our federal wildland firefighters have taken on longer, more complex and more dangerous fire seasons.”
Agencies have 12 months to implement the new occupational series. In the meantime, current federal firefighters will have the ability to choose whether or not to opt in to the new classification or stay in their current roles.
In a statement, National Federation of Federal Employees National President Randy Erwin, whose union represents around 10,000 wildland firefighters, applauded the decision to apply the bipartisan infrastructure law’s provisions to all federal wildland firefighters, not just those in particular regions.
“There has been a serious recruitment and retention problem for wildland firefighters at federal agencies this year,” Erwin said. “Firefighters simply could not make ends meet on the hopelessly low salaries offered at federal agencies, so jobs were becoming very difficult to fill . . . I am very pleased to see that the Biden administration got this decision right. They did the right thing and implemented this pay increase nationwide and as fast as they could. As a consequence, communities are going to be protected and lives are going to be saved.”