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Senators Calling on OMB to Provide Information on Federal Firefighter Housing

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today led a bipartisan group of senators calling on OMB Director Shalanda Young to provide information on changes to the availability and cost of federal firefighter housing. Housing issues have been identified as a key barrier to firefighter recruitment and retention.

“On November 17, 2022, the Government Accountability Office published a report on the barriers to wildland firefighter recruitment and retention, and one of the primary barriers identified by the report was the cost associated with a remote duty station, including the costs for federal housing,” the senators wrote.

“This finding confirms the anecdotes we have heard from firefighters across the nation that their housing units are in very poor condition and extremely expensive. Many wildland firefighters, however, work in remote areas with little available private housing, making them reliant on federally owned housing, regardless of the cost.”

In the letter, the senators identify several issues that may contribute to the high cost of firefighter housing including changes made to price-setting regulations in 2019. These regulation changes affected the cost for multi-room units and rent reduction for particularly remote cabins.

In addition to Senator Feinstein, the letter was signed by Senators Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter is available here and below:

January 18, 2023

The Honorable Shalanda Young
Director
Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20503

Dear Director Young,

We write to request a briefing on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) pricing guidelines for federal housing, detailed in OMB Circular A-45R, and their impacts on federal wildland firefighters.

As you may know, the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior have experienced chronic wildland firefighter staffing shortages in recent years, even as wildfires have become increasingly widespread and destructive. On November 17, 2022, the Government Accountability Office published a report on the barriers to wildland firefighter recruitment and retention, and one of the primary barriers identified by the report was the cost associated with a remote duty station, including the costs for federal housing. This finding confirms the anecdotes we have heard from firefighters across the nation that their housing units are in very poor condition and extremely expensive. Many wildland firefighters, however, work in remote areas with little available private housing, making them reliant on federally owned housing, regardless of the cost.

To better understand the issues surrounding federal housing, we request a briefing on how federal housing prices are determined. For example, we understand that if one person leaves a multi-room unit, the rent for the remaining residents increases accordingly, despite those residents having no control over whether a new person moves in. We also understand that changes were made to OMB Circular A-45R in 2019, including a new definition for a “bunkhouse” and a new formula for determining the price of remote housing. We would like to discuss whether these changes inadvertently increased housing costs for wildland firefighters and, if so, whether OMB is considering further revisions to remedy this problem.

Federal wildland firefighters have a difficult and dangerous job, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to support them in this work. We look forward to discussing these issues in detail and working with you to address the barriers to firefighter recruitment and retention.

Sincerely,

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/
As California's senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein has built a reputation as an independent voice, working with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing California and the Nation.
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