USDA Plans Reduction in Force, Closing of Job Training Centers

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced that a Forest Service-run Job Corps program will be transferred to the Department of Labor. As part of the move, nine of the 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers will be closed. The plan could eliminate up to 1,100 jobs from the Forest Service.

In a news release on Friday, the Department of Labor announced planned closures of Civilian Conservation Centers in Montana, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oregon.

In a letter by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, Perdue noted that the move would help the Forest Service prioritize its “core natural resource mission to improve condition and resilience of our nation’s forest, and step away from activities and programs that are not essential to that core mission.”

The Civilian Conservation Centers offer vocational training in more than 30 fields to teenagers and young adults to work on conservation efforts and serve as first responders in wildfires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, according to Federal News Network.

According to Randy Erwin, National President of the National Federation of Federal Employees, the union representing Forest Service workers, “The Job Corps program in general receives a lot of bipartisan support in Congress, and that support certainly includes the centers operated by USDA. Eighty percent of [Civilian Conservation Centers] students who graduate go on to get a job, enter the military, or attend continuing education. Plus, only the [Civilian Conservation Centers] train students to serve as wild land forest firefighters to help with fire suppression operations during fire season. There is no plan for this loss of resources to the country which has seen more powerful fires with each passing year."

Brittany Holder, a National Federation of Federal Employees spokeswoman, told Federal News Network that the Forest Service has offered Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP) to eligible employees. It is unclear how many employees plan to take the buyout. Holder also noted that employees impacted by the reduction in force will be eligible for priority placement within USDA and other agencies.

Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen has noted to Federal News Network that the reductions in force do “not reflect the quality” of work done by those dismissed. Christiansen said, “We value the service and contributions Forest Service Job Corps [Civilian Conservation Centers] ha[ve] made to our mission in its decades long history.”

The Department of Labor has pledged to “increase student access to Job Corps centers with the highest sustained student performance outcomes. The Department will continue to ensure student access to the program through a commitment to maintain at least one Job Corps center in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.”

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