Forest Service struggles with staffing as firefighting costs double

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In the last decade, the Forest Service’s costs for firefighting have doubled, totaling $1 billion in 2009, according to the inspector general. At the same time, it is struggling to keep pace with retiring personnel.

The Forest Service is in charge of protecting over 190 million acres of forests and grassland from fires.

Many Forest Service employees in critical fire management positions are reaching retirement age, but the department lacks a detailed plan to replace them. Forest Service typically relies on employees to apply for positions that interest them and assumes their preferences coincide with agency needs. It also allows employees to complete training programs at their own pace, taking an average of 23 years for an employee to qualify for critical management positions.

With increasingly severe fire seasons, the Forest Service has relied on contract fire crews more often, but does not have a way to evaluate the performance of hired crews. The department also performed duplicate inspections of the contract crews prior to deploying them to the scene of the fire, costing an additional $1.7 million and delaying their arrival by an average of two hours.

The inspector general also found inappropriate purchases, like iPhones and promotional t-shirts, charged to recovery act projects.

FAST FACT: In 2009, only 29 percent of critical personnel at the Forest Service were eligible for retirement, but within 10 years, that number jumps to 86 percent.

Following are other new watchdog reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG), and other government entities.

MISC.

  • IRS contractors owing $4.3 billion in delinquent taxes received $356 million in payments from the IRS and about $3.7 billion from other federal agencies. While delinquent taxes can indicate issues that would hinder a contractor’s performance, it rarely prevents a contractor from receiving federal funds. (Treasury Inspector General)

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