The Department of the Interior (DOI) has implemented a policy that allows Bureau and Office law enforcement and firefighting chiefs to waive on a case by case basis the maximum entry age and mandatory retirement age for firefighters and law enforcement officers who are covered by the early retirement system. Until the new policy was signed on December 21, 2018 by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke these firefighters were required to retire at age 57 if they had 20 years of covered service and had to begin their service no later than age 37. It is now possible for each of those requirements to be bumped up by three years — to 40 and 60.
The general justification for the change, as stated in Mr. Zinke’s memo, is to “speed up the hiring process”.
Specifically, waivers for the minimum entry age may be granted for those who do not have veterans’ preference if there is a shortage of highly qualified applicants for a specific law enforcement or firefighter position, or if there is a shortage of available candidates in a geographic area.
The mandatory retirement age could be changed to 60 in cases where the continuation of the employee’s services promotes the public interest. One of the examples given was if there is a skill shortage and a qualified replacement is not readily available to replace a highly skilled incumbent who is responsible for a vital program.
In 2001 the maximum entry age and mandatory retirement age were raised by two years, from 35 to 37 and 55 to 57 respectively, for both DOI agencies and the U.S. Forest Service.
“The goal here is to strengthen the ranks of our Forest Service firefighters,” said Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth on October 21, 2001. “Increasing the maximum entry age for firefighters will allow us to open the occupation to a wider group of candidates thereby increasing our ability to hire the best, the brightest and the most skilled.”
There are four agencies in the DOI that employ wildland firefighters: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Fish and Wildlife Service. There is one in the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service. All five agencies also have law enforcement officers.
“The Forest Service is aware of DOI’s initiative,” Sandra Lopez, a U.S. Forest Service spokesperson told us. “The Forest Service has not made any policy changes at this time and we are reviewing DOI’s initiative.”
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