The Trump administration has reversed their decision, for now anyway, to transfer the management of 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and permanently close 9 of those 25 centers. The plans were to fire about 1,100 Forest Service employees and hire private companies to run the remaining 16 Centers. It would have been the largest reduction in the agency’s workforce in a decade.
A joint statement issued Wednesday night by the Departments of Labor and Agriculture read in part:
Following robust engagement with stakeholders and Members of Congress regarding the future of the USFS Job Corps centers, USDA has notified DOL that the USFS will evaluate the feedback while reviewing its role in Job Corps management and operation. For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centers to DOL to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity.
The decision to close nine of the Centers and hire contractors to run the rest provoked very strong reactions from current and former students at the Centers, Forest Service employees, a union representing the employees, citizens, and many politicians in states affected by the closures and firings. Even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who supports virtually everything that comes out of the White House pressured the administration to rethink the transfer, closing, and contracting plan. Several congressmen introduced various pieces of legislation that would prohibit the implementation of the plan including Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio.
The withdrawal of the gutting of the Forest Service Job Corps Centers, first reported by Politico, came about three weeks after Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen told a group of employees on May 24 that over 1,000 of them would be laid off.
The nine Centers that were going to be permanently closed were in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon.
Below is an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post published Wednesday night:
In a rare break with the administration, Republicans joined Democrats in fighting not just the shutdowns but the effort to hand over operations to private companies. The opponents included Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), whose timber-producing district on the Canadian border already is losing jobs, and Rep. H. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.), whose Southwest Virginia district in Appalachian coal country has yet to see the fruits of Trump’s promises to revive the industry.
With two centers in Kentucky on the closure list, McConnell wrote [Secretary of Agriculture Sonny] Perdue and [Secretary of Labor Alexander] Acosta a letter of protest, citing the loss to “distressed Kentucky counties with unemployment rates above the national average,” which “need more support, not less.”
In a separate letter signed by 51 Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers took issue with the administration’s claim that many of the centers announced for closure were poor performers.
The Job Corps centers, which are run by federal employees, help train youths in wildland firefighting, forestry, culinary arts, welding, construction, and other trades. Their official mission is to educate 16- to 24-year-olds, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, while helping U.S. conservation efforts on public lands. After graduating from the program many of the youths have training, skills, and experience that qualifies them for permanent jobs in government or private industry.
On June 11 we published an editorial written by a former high-level Forest Service employee, Michael T. Rains. Before he retired in 2016 Mr. Rains had been Deputy Chief of the Forest Service for State and Private Forestry in Washington, D.C. and Director of the Northern Research Station at Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Below, Mr. Rains expands on his earlier message, this time concentrating on what it will mean to transfer the Centers to the Department of Labor.
“I am writing again about the May 24, 2019 decision to “close” and “transfer” 25 Forest Service JCCCC’s.
“Recently, I was reading an article entitled, “Privatization of Trapper Creek Job Corps would ripple across forests, towns, schools.” The article focuses on the negative impacts of “transferring” the Trapper Creek Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center [JCCCC] to a private contractor through the Department of Labor.
“Because words do matter, I began to think about the words “closure”, “transfer”, “contractors” and “privatization.” “Closure” is clear. Everything ends. The Trapper Creek JCCCC is set for “transfer.” I suppose, clinically speaking, “transferring” something from point A to point B sounds pretty innocuous; no harm no foul, right? But then when I think about the words “contractors” or “private contractors” that lead to the “privatization” of an enterprise steeped in a specific culture; the word “transfer” takes on a much more profound meaning. Accordingly, it remains clear to me that a transfer to privatize will essentially end a success story of helping train students to care for the land. And, in these times when caring for America’s lands is so critical to protecting people and communities from disturbances – for example, wildfires – transferring to privatize the Forest Service JCCCC’s is a really ugly choice.
“It is clear that many are outraged about the “closures.” They should be. Let us also be outraged about the “transfer” of Forest Service JCCCC’s that will be “privatized” causing the legacy built by the Forest Service Job Corps teachers and students to be methodically lost. And, what a loss that will be. As a former Forest Service Job Corps employee during the mid-1960s so succinctly put it: “The fact this program is either being shut down or auctioned off to a mercenary group is a bloody disgrace.” Yes, words do matter. Moving from Point A to Point B may not seem like a big deal. But, with the Forest Service JCCCC’s, the word transfer will mean privatization and this essentially means closure. Do not let this happen.”
More about transferring and closing the Job Corps Centers:
The amendment introduced by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio would prohibit the government from spending any funds to “alter or terminate the Interagency Agreement between the United States Department of Labor and the United States Department of Agriculture governing the funding, establishment, and operation of Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers”. It would also prohibit funds being used to close any of the 25 Job Corps centers that are now operated by the Forest Service.
Transferring the Centers to the Department of Labor could result in the loss of over 1,000 jobs within the Forest Service.
The centers currently employ more than 1,100 people, operate in 17 national forests and grasslands across 16 states, and provide training to over 3,000 youth and young adults according to Congressman DeFazio.
Information from the U.S. Forest Service said 1,200 CCC students provided the equivalent of 450,000 hours of wildfire support during the height of the 2017 fire season.
If you would like to get into the weeds about how this amendment was introduced and debated on the floor of the House, you can read the transcript published in the Congressional Record, beginning on page H4541.
Representatives who spoke in favor of the bill during the debate included Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Sanford Bishop of Georgia, Dan Newhouse of Washington, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
The lone representative speaking against the measure was Virginia Foxx of North Carolina. Interestingly, the Schenck Job Corps Center in her state was ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide during the program year that ended June 30, 2018.
A letter from the National Association of Home Builders backing the amendment was included in the official record. Here is an excerpt:
The recent termination of the Department of Agriculture’s training partnership with Job Corps and subsequent announcement by the Department of Labor (DOL) of nine center closures is deeply concerning to NAHB and its workforce development arm, the Home Builders Institute (HBI), which has trained and placed thousands of students for careers in residential construction through its 45-year partnership with Job Corps. HBI Job Corps programs are offered at 65 centers across the country, and have equipped at-risk youth with the skills and experience they need for successful careers through pre-apprenticeship training, job placement services, mentoring, certification programs, textbooks and curricula.
DOL’s planned Job Corps center closures stand to impact more than 43 construction training programs, six of which are operated by HBI at three of the affected locations. Many of these centers serve rural and dislocated communities and have enrollment numbers exceeding national and regional averages. However, the Department of Labor has not disclosed any performance metrics or data to support its closure determinations and it has provided little information on how it will continue to serve the thousands of at-risk youth who will be displaced from their local centers. Further, DOL has not informed contracted training partners like HBI whether their successfully operating programs–and their administering staff–will be relocated or simply terminated along with the centers they have served.
The amendment passed with a voice vote, but Chip Roy of Texas objected and forced a recorded vote — which also passed, 313-109. All Democrats voted in favor; Republicans voted 81 for and 109 against.
The legislation the measure is attached to is a major bill, the “Fiscal Year 2020 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Legislative Branch, Defense, State, Foreign Operations, and Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act”, H.R. 2740.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
In light of the announcement to transfer the management of 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers from the U.S. Forest Service to the Department of Labor (DOL) and to permanently close 9 of those 25 centers, it is interesting to look back on a story written and published by the Forest Service nine months ago about then Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen’s visit to “the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide.” She was later confirmed as Chief of the Forest Service.
Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen, Schenck Job Corps celebrate number one ranking
NORTH CAROLINA – “Look for the fire that burns within you and gives you the juice. You are capable of doing anything you put your mind to.” USDA Forest Service Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen offered these words of advice to the students at Schenck Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center, located on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.
Christiansen journeyed to Schenck Job Corps Center on September 26, 2018, to congratulate the students and staff on the center’s remarkable Program Year 2017 performance. The center’s program year ended on June 30, 2018 and resulted in it being ranked as the number one Job Corps Center out of 123 nationwide. Not only did Schenck achieve the number one overall ranking, it also ranked number one in graduate job placement.
Having also been recognized as the number one center in 2014, this is a repeat performance for Schenck within a span of five years. Job Corps Centers are evaluated on weighted measures and performance goals that include credential and high school diploma attainment, job placement and wages.
Along with Schenck, eleven other Forest Service Job Corps Centers–Flatwoods, Trapper Creek, Frenchburg, Blackwell, Centennial, Curlew, Wolf Creek, Weber Basin, Anaconda, Pine Knot and Lyndon B. Johnson–finished in the top 50 of the 123 Job Corps Centers.
“Having the Chief here is really cool,” said Rosalyn Velasquez, a member of Schenck’s Advanced Fire Management Program and its associated Davidson River Initial Attack Crew. The DVR has built a stellar reputation with its 100% graduation rate and consistent graduate job placement into career positions with the Forest Service and other public lands management agencies. The DVR students were impressed that, like them, Christiansen began her career as a wildland firefighter and has now risen to the heights of her current position.
Christiansen was enthusiastic about the value Civilian Conservation Centers bring to the Forest Service. In PY17 alone, Job Corps students contributed 42,912 hours to national forests and grasslands project work. These hours equate to a dollar contribution of $1,059,497. Additionally, Job Corps students have contributed approximately 460,000 hours to wildland fire support and 5,000 hours to hurricane support.
Christiansen offered wise advice to the students on how to approach a job as they begin their careers. “Good leaders first learned to be good followers,” she stated before sharing this fable. “One day a traveler came upon three bricklayers and inquired what are you doing? The first one replied ‘laying these brick,’ the second one replied ‘working as a member of this team’, while the third replied ‘I’m part of this team that is building this grand cathedral.’” Christiansen ended by saying, “The moral of the fable of ‘The Three Bricklayers’ is that we all have our roles.”
Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers changes lives one student at a time by equipping them with valuable skills to help them find jobs and support the nation’s economy. Along with supporting the Forest Service national priority of promoting shared stewardship, Civilian Conservation Centers also provide critical support to their local communities and, in PY17, volunteered 60,274 hours to community projects, equating to a dollar contribution of $1,488,156.
The Job Corps Centers managed by the U.S. Forest Service help train youths in wildland firefighting, forestry, culinary arts, welding, and other trades. Their official mission is to educate 16- to 24-year-olds, many of whom are from disadvantaged backgrounds, while helping U.S. conservation efforts on public lands. After graduating from the program many of the youths have training, skills, and experience that qualifies them for permanent jobs in government or private industry.
A former high-level Forest Service employee, Michael T. Rains, has written a letter to the President requesting that transfer of the Centers to the DOL and closure of eight be reversed. Before Mr. Rains retired in 2016 he had been Deputy Chief of the Forest Service for State and Private Forestry in Washington, D.C. and Director of the Northern Research Station at Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. The letter is used here with his permission:
June 3, 2019
The President The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to you about an issue that I know you are aware of. Currently, the United States Forest Service operates 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers [JCCCC’s] with 4,300 students, on 23 National Forests, across 17 states. On May 24, 2019, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture sent a letter to the Department of Labor [DOL] transferring 16 of these JCCCC’s to the DOL. And, as part of this action, 9 of the 25 Centers will be closed. Yesterday [June 3, 2019], you reversed the decision on one of the closures – the Anaconda JCCCC at Anaconda, Montana. Thank you very much for doing this.
It is interesting to note that in a “Outcome Measurement System” matrix that I was reviewing, the Anaconda JCCCC was ranked 23rd out of the 129 Centers across America. The 6th ranked Center at Frenchburg, Kentucky is also being proposed for closure. The top ranked Center, Schenck on the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, is set to be transferred to the DOL. As far as I can tell, there does not seem to be any logic between performance or cost-effectiveness or mission alignment and this set of closure/transfer actions.
Accordingly, I implore you to do the same decision-reversal that you did for the Anaconda Center for all the other closures and all the transfers. My reasoning is simple. Beyond any doubt, these closure/transfer actions are incredibly short-sighted, ineffective and based on a premise that is not at all accurate. The USDA Secretary has concluded the closure/transfer actions will help the Forest Service better prioritize its “core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our nation’s forests, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission.” Allow me to be blunt. This statement is completely absurd. Further, the DOL will never be able to match the achievement and influence that the United States Forest Service has been able to attain with this program. The role of the students in helping achieve America’s conservation mission through the long-term dedicated instruction by Forest Service teachers and leaders cannot be logically questioned or challenged.
As you know, the core mission of the Forest Service is characterized by the slogan, “…caring for the land and serving people.” The agency has a direct and indirect role in the management, protection and wise use of about 80 percent of America’s forests – about 885 million acres. The fundamental principle of this mission is to keep forests healthy, sustainable and more resilient to disturbances – such as wildfires. The Forest Service Job Corp program and its students help advance this mission. Some recent examples showing the incredible impact of the students:
1,054 students have been Red-carded [qualified] to prepare for firefighting assignments.
Over 3,000 days worked, including 440 days reducing hazardous fuels and treating almost 6,000 acres within the high-risk to fire Wildland-Urban Interface areas.
Millions of dollars in work-related contributions to rural communities — $35 million in just a three-year period.
94 Job Corps graduates recently hired in permanent career positions to embolden the Forest Service conservation ethic.
There is lots of information, over an extended period of time, that demonstrates the significant impacts the JCCCC’s program has on Forest Service activities (including, forest restoration, fire suppression, prescribed fire, recreation and trail maintenance). The Secretary’s conclusion is not factual. For example, from just 2016-2018, about 230 students at the Forest Service Job Corps Centers have been qualified and deployed for wildland firefighting duties. The pipeline of well-trained firefighters is growing. Wildland firefighting has always been considered to be a “core mission” of the Forest Service.
Please see what some Forest Service employees are saying about the Forest Service-administered Job Corps program. I am biased, to be sure. In 2016, I retired from the Forest Service after almost 50 years of public service. I began my career as a wildland firefighter. While I never had a specific assignment in “Job Corps”, my experiences intersected with the program and its students very often. And, as one employee said, “…they are just an incredible asset.” Yes, the Centers and their students and the teachers are an incredible asset that has proven to be one of the great success stories of our time — by helping at-risk youth become productive citizens.
Moving the Forest Service Job Corps program to the DOL, in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary, will destroy this asset. The DOL does not know or care about America’s land conservation legacy. The legacy built by the Forest Service Job Corps students will be methodically lost. As one associate recently stated: “…the DOL has attempted to wrestle this valuable, high performing program away from the Forest Service since the 1970’s. The DOL will not do the job the Forest Service has done since 1964 and the losers will be the Nation, our National Forests, and the current and future Job Corps Enrollees.”
Mr. President, allow me to conclude with this urgent plea: As you so correctly did with the Anaconda Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center in Montana, please reverse the decision to close the other 8 Centers and reverse the decision to transfer 16 Forest Service-administered Centers to the DOL. Allow the Forest Service to continue its work with the students and the communities. Please know, the information presented to you in making the initial decision was and remains faulty. To proceed ahead with this decision will not allow you and your Administration to care for our lands and serve American’s in the manner that they should be served.
Included in this letter is a supporting A.1 Appendix.
Michael T. Rains
Appendix A.1. The Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers [JCCCC’s] Administered by the United States Forest Service [Ranking] and [Congressional Districts, Representative and Party Affiliation] and [Senators and Party Affiliation]
A. JCCCC’s to be Transferred to the Department of Labor [under a New Contract Operator]:
The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Labor (DOL) have confirmed in a Forest Service internal newsletter and a DOL news release that the Forest Service intends to close 9 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers and transfer the remaining 16 centers operated by the Forest Service to the Department of Labor.
It appears that the concept of closing the centers and laying off over 1,000 FS employees originated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, although it is not clear if it was conceived at a higher level.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies on May 2, 2019, Chairman Roy Blunt said to Secretary of Labor Rene Acosta, “…There were a couple of USDA run programs in the country. I have been told they are no longer interested in running those programs.”
Mr. Acosta responded: “USDA has indicated they have concerns as to the effectiveness of those programs. If they do withdraw we would look Job Corps by Job Corps and determine whether to close that center, consolidate it, or convert it into something different.”
The DOL says the administration intends to replace the government employees that are running the remaining 16 centers with contractors. Sources within the Job Corps have told us that after the changes take place the centers will no longer have programs to train the participants in wildland firefighting, prescribed fire, or logistical support for large incidents. This and the conversion to contractor run facilities, according to reports from inside the Job Corps, will result in more than 1,000 FS employees being laid off. We have had inquiries in with the FS and DOL since May 25, asking for more details, but it can be difficult getting responses from government agencies on a holiday weekend.
Firefighting is not the only trade being taught in the centers. Participants in the tuition-free training and education programs can also receive training and earn certificates in a variety of trades, including culinary arts, welding, forestry, health care, information technology, advanced manufacturing, accounting, automotive repair, heavy equipment operation, truck driving, construction, and seamanship.
The Forest Service published a summary for the year 2016 of the accomplishments at the 22 centers that participated in the forestry and firefighting genre. (download the report; very large 14 MB pdf file). It shows that combined, they provided help on 412 assignments involving 1,971 participant assignments (many had more than one), for a total of 368,998 hours.
Below are some details from the report of how one center that is slated by the Administration to be closed, the Pine Knot center in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, assisted the Forest Service and other agencies. The text is pasted below, and page 8 about Pine Knot from the report follows the text.
“Pine Knot Job Corps Shines During the 2016 Fire Season Jamie Tyson, Job Corps Forest Area Fire Management Officer, Daniel Boone National Forest-Pine Knot Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center
“Reflecting their solid training and professionalism, Pine Knot Job Corps Civilian Conservation Students (JCCCC) students worked 13,129 hours on 40 assignments during the 2016 fire season.
“Upon becoming red-carded, Pine Knot Job Corps students are available to support the efforts of the Daniel Boone National Forest and national forests nationwide through a multitude of avenues.
“To support wildland suppression efforts, Pine Knot Job Corps students may participate in camp crew, Firefighter Type 2 (FFT2) and FFT2 Initial Attack (IA) crew assignments, as well as various module or engine configurations. Students are also utilized extensively to assist in completion of national forest priority projects and targets on the Daniel Boone National Forest, especially those pertaining to fuels, stream restoration, trail maintenance, and hazard tree removal.
“At the highest point, nearly 1,000 fire personnel were on the scene to battle the West Mims Fire, ignited by a lightning strike and reported on April 6, 2017, on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Behind the scenes are camp crews that provide critical support to wildland firefighting efforts. The West Mims Fire incident managers recognized the Pine Knot Job Corps camp crew as the “unsung heroes” on the fire.”