President’s 2024 Budget advances efforts to address nation’s wildfire crisis through workforce reform, investments in wildland fire management programs
The Biden-Harris Administration submitted to Congress the President’s budget for fiscal year 2024, which includes significant funding increases for wildland fire and hazardous fuels management. These investments will help address the nation’s wildfire crisis and implement comprehensive reforms for the wildland fire management workforce that provide stronger financial and health support to wildland firefighters, who are the backbone of wildland fire management nationwide.
The workforce reforms proposed in the FY 2024 budget request will increase federal and tribal firefighters’ pay, invest more in their mental and physical health and wellbeing, improve their housing options and expand the number of permanent firefighters. These reforms build on the temporary pay increase provided by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The permanent pay reforms require authorizing legislation, and the Administration is committed to working with congressional leaders on developing a comprehensive legislative proposal.
“Wildland firefighters save lives, protect communities and serve on the frontlines to confront our nation’s wildfire crisis,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We must take better care of them in return by addressing challenges that have plagued them for decades. Better care means better pay and benefits, better housing, better mental and physical health resources and better work-life balance for these people who have given so much.”
“Wildfires fueled by climate change and ongoing drought continue to reinforce the need for a well-supported wildland fire management workforce that is available year-round to protect lives, communities, infrastructure and ecosystems throughout the country,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The President’s 2024 budget proposal supports our ongoing effort to shift away from a temporary, seasonal workforce toward a more permanent team that can conduct wildland fire management year-round, including activities to reduce wildfire risk throughout the country.”
Last year, nearly 69,000 wildfires burned more than 7.5 million acres across the country. On average, wildfire activity, severity, size and cost are escalating. Wildfires that are larger, more intense, and harder to control threaten lives, communities, and valuable resources. In addition, wildland firefighters, who now face a fire year instead of a fire season, spend more time on the fireline and less time at home.
The 2024 budget request for the Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s wildland fire and hazardous fuels management totals $2.97 billion, which is $647 million, or 28 percent above the comparable 2023 enacted level. More information can be found on the Forest Service’s website. The FY 2024 budget request for the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) wildland fire and hazardous fuels management totals $1.33 billion, which is $233.1 million, or 21 percent, above the comparable 2023 level. More information can be found on the Department’s website.
FY 2024 increases to implement workforce reform
- Increases firefighters’ pay. The cornerstone of the workforce reform proposal in President’s FY 2024 budget request for wildland fire management is a permanent pay increase for wildland firefighters. The budget includes increases of $180 million for USDA and $72 million for DOI to raise base pay for federal and tribal wildland firefighters, with additional premium pay costs covered out of funding requested for suppression operations. To implement this reform, the President’s budget proposes legislation to: establish a special base rate salary table for all federal wildland firefighters that will permanently increase their pay; create a new premium pay category that provides all incident responders with additional compensation for all hours they are mobilized on an incident; and establish a pay cap with secretarial waiver authority using specific criteria.
- Expands firefighting capacity. The increases in the budget over FY 2023 enacted include $76 million for USDA and $35 million for DOI above the FY 2023 levels for capacity, bringing total operational increases for USDA to $259 million and for DOI $45 million, with additional premium pay costs covered out of funding requested for suppression operations. This will ensure that the agencies can effectively meet the demands of wildland fire year-round while improving the work-life balance of firefighters. In total, the budget will support the equivalent of 970 (8.5 percent) additional federal firefighters and support personnel for USDA and 370 (8.8 percent) more federal personnel for DOI. The budget for DOI also will support the equivalent of 55 more tribal wildland fire personnel than the FY 2023 enacted level.
- Enhances support for firefighter health and wellbeing. The workforce reform proposal also includes increases of $10 million for both USDA and DOI ($20 million in total) to enhance support for firefighters’ mental and physical health and wellbeing. The Joint Wildland Firefighter Behavioral Health Program will establish year-round prevention and mental health support training, provide post-traumatic stress care, enhance capacity for acute response, and create a system of trauma support services with an emphasis on early intervention. The departments will co-host a Firefighter Mental Health and Wellbeing Summit in April to further the program’s development.
- Provides vital housing for wildland fire personnel. In addition, the workforce reform proposal increases funding for both departments to house firefighters and support personnel. The budget increases USDA’s and DOI’s funding for facilities improvement and maintenance by $50 million and $22 million, respectively. These increases will go to repair, renovate, and construct housing for wildland fire personnel as they continue to encounter limited or unaffordable housing options in some locations.
Other FY 2024 increases for Wildland Fire Management Programs
The President’s budget for USDA also includes an increase of $16 million for the wildfire preparedness program and $183 million for hiring additional personnel. These funds, together with the capacity increases included in the workforce reform proposal, will support an additional 970 wildland firefighters and support personnel and ensure that fire management assets, such as large airtankers, helicopters, Hot Shot crews, and smokejumpers, can support timely and effective initial attack response operations. The budget also includes an increase of almost $116 million to increase the acres of hazardous fuels reduction treatments on public lands to meet the goals of the agency’s 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy. Of that increase, $1.6 million will accelerate the procurement of Zero Emission Vehicles as practicable to replace fire fleet vehicles. A separate increase of $6 million supports continued access to the FireGuard capability currently administered by the National Guard and would initiate a process to formally document the transition of FireGuard capability from the Department of Defense to USDA. Additionally, this funding will be used to identify key areas where artificial intelligence and automation can reduce staffing needs and risks to firefighters.
The President’s budget request for DOI also provides increases totaling $38 million for wildfire preparedness, including more funding for aviation contracts, uncrewed aerial systems, and incident support. These increases, together with the capacity increases included in the workforce reform proposal, will support the equivalent of 370 additional federal personnel for DOI, as well as the equivalent of 55 more Tribal personnel. In addition, the budget provides an increase of $9 million for fuels management to go to tribal contract support and the Reserved Treaty Rights Lands program, which enhances the health and resiliency of tribal landscapes. The budget’s funding for fuels management, in conjunction with Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, will promote the treatment of over 2 million acres of hazardous fuels to reduce wildfire risk. This work will be done in collaboration with numerous stakeholders and partners.
For more information on the fiscal 2024 president’s budget, visit whitehouse.gov/omb/budget.