Stimulus bill, conference version; $515 million for fire management

The “stimulus bill”, aka “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009”, has made it through the House, the Senate, and the Conference committee. Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the Conference version on Friday.

It is doubtful that it will be changed again before it is signed by President Obama. HERE is a link to the portion of the conference committee’s report that covers the land management agencies.

The table below shows the amounts in millions of dollars to be appropriated to the five major land management agencies. “Conf.” stands for the final dollar amount that came out of the Conference Committee. “Ops” stands for operations.

Agency
Fire
Construction
Ops.
USFS House
850
650
0
USFS Senate
650 485
650
0
USFS Conf.
*500
650
0
NPS House
0
1,700
0
NPS Senate
0
589
213 158
NPS Conf.
0
589
146
USF&WS House
0
300
0
USF&WS Sen.
0
110
190 165
USF&WS Conf.
0
115
165
BLM House
0
325
0
BLM Senate
15
180
135
BLM Conf.
**15
180
125
BIA House
0
500
0
BIA Senate
0
522
40
BIA Conf.
0
450
40

Quotes from the report, about the amounts designated for Fire for the USFS and the BLM:

* “The conference agreement provides $500,000,000 for Wildland Fire Management instead of $485,000,000 proposed by the Senate and $850,000,000 proposed by the House. This includes $250,000,000 for hazardous fuels reduction, forest health protection, rehabilitation and hazard mitigation activities on Federal lands and $250,000,000 for cooperative activities to benefit State and private lands.

The conference agreement provides flexibility to the Service to allocate funds among existing State and private assistance programs to choose programs that provide the maximum public benefit. The Conferees encourage the Service to select individual projects based on a prioritization process which weighs the capacity of proposals to create the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time and to create lasting value for the American public. The bill allows the Service to use up to $50,000,000 to make competitive grants for the purpose of creating incentives for increased use of biomass from federal and non-federal forested lands. To better address current economic conditions at the state and local level, funds provided for State and private forestry activities shall not be subject to matching or cost share requirements.”

** “The funds should be used for high priority hazardous fuels reduction projects on Federal Lands.”

What next?

The phrase “be careful what you ask for” comes to mind. These federal agencies have been suffering from declining budgets and shrinking staffs for years. Now they have large pots of money dumped into their laps that has to be spent very quickly. Some projects may be “shovel-ready”, but in many cases written plans have to be developed and approved, environmental compliance sought, personnel may be hired, or contracts must be written, advertised, and awarded. All this while continuing the normal course of business.

The National Park Service, for example, anticipating a surge in their workload, is already sending out inquiries seeking ex-employees or retirees who have previous NPS contracting experience. Retirees may be hired as rehired annuitants with a waiver of dual compensation, that is, their current retirement annuity would not be reduced. Those interested can call Heidi Ernst at 303 987-6714 for more information.

UPDATE Feb. 14:

The Stimulus bill that President Obama will sign on Monday includes $210 million for the construction of fire stations. The funds can be used for modifying, upgrading or constructing non-Federal fire stations, not to exceed $15 million per grant. The legislation also waives the cost-share provisions for 2009 and 2010 that have been in place for some earlier grants.