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McMorris Rodgers asks that wildfire fighters be exempted from hiring freeze

UPDATED: THURSDAY, FEB. 2, 2017, 10:47 P.M.

Homeowner Brad Craig, right, thanks departing firefighters who he said saved his home from a wildfire Saturday morning, Aug. 22, 2015, in Okanogan, Wash. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking that seasonal firefighters be exempted from a federal hiring freeze, but the request may have been rendered redundant by a decision made the day before. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Homeowner Brad Craig, right, thanks departing firefighters who he said saved his home from a wildfire Saturday morning, Aug. 22, 2015, in Okanogan, Wash. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and other lawmakers sent a letter to President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking that seasonal firefighters be exempted from a federal hiring freeze, but the request may have been rendered redundant by a decision made the day before. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has joined lawmakers on both sides of the aisle asking the Donald Trump administration not to freeze hiring of seasonal firefighters.

But the request may be redundant given a recent ruling.

In a letter sent Wednesday, the congresswoman joined representatives from Arizona, Colorado and California requesting that the memorandum Trump signed Jan. 23 not apply to recruiting by the National Forest Service to fight wildfires during the traditionally dry seasons on the West Coast.

“In order to ensure they are trained and ready for wildfire season, the Forest Service’s hiring process traditionally begins over the next several weeks with a series of job fairs in wildfire-prone states,” the letter, signed by McMorris Rodgers and eight other lawmakers, both Democratic and Republican, reads. “We are concerned that this process will be interrupted, delayed, or prohibited by the Administration’s hiring freeze.”

The request may be rendered unnecessary by a ruling Tuesday from Trump’s administration exempting all temporary employees “necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads” from the hiring freeze.

The halt to federal hiring, one of several executive actions Trump has taken since assuming office Jan. 20, was the fulfillment of several campaign promises the real estate tycoon made. The memorandum included an exemption for military personnel, and also allowed the heads of executive agencies to request their own exemptions to “meet … public safety responsibilities.”

In an interview with The Spokesman-Review last month, McMorris Rodgers defended Trump’s authority to institute the hiring freeze while he evaluated federal staffing levels.

“I can understand him wanting to impose a hiring freeze and be able to do his own review,” McMorris Rodgers said.

But federal firefighters are essential to buttressing state and local crews fighting massive blazes, McMorris Rodgers said in a statement accompanying the release of the letter.

The letter was sent a day after the acting directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, agencies overseeing spending and staffing of the federal government, issued additional guidance on the order that seems likely to exempt seasonal firefighters, and indeed all seasonal workers in the employ of the federal government, from the hiring freeze.

“Appointment of seasonal employees and short-term temporary employees necessary to meet traditionally recurring seasonal workloads, provided that the agency informs its (Office of Management and Budget) Resource Management Office in writing in advance of its hiring plans,” will be allowed under the current presidential memorandum, the agency directors said in a memo issued Tuesday.

Regional Forest Service officials either declined comment on their seasonal hiring, directing questions to the Office of Personnel Management, or did not immediately respond to messages requesting comment Thursday morning.

In response to a question about the necessity of the letter and whether the memo was adequate to address the congresswoman’s concerns, McMorris Rodgers issued a statement calling for clarity on recruiting.

“We all know how devastating the wildfires have been to our region over the last few years, and going into this year’s fire season, it needs to be made clear that our firefighters and seasonal firefighters are exempt from the administration’s hiring freeze. It’s important we have the resources we need to keep our forests healthy, to keep our communities safe, and to support our firefighters,” the statement read.

Several federal agencies and installations have been left questioning how Trump’s memorandum would affect hiring, and lawmakers have been quick to request exemptions on behalf of locations in their districts. U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have asked that the Veterans Administration be exempted from the freeze, as well as at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. The VA later issued a memorandum indicating some of its positions would be exempted from Trump’s hiring freeze.

The National Federation of Federal Employees estimates that about 6,200 seasonal firefighters were hired nationwide to battle blazes in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.



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