USFS Fuels Academy - Appendix A: Pilot Program Description

Summary

Forests are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit qualified GS-0401-09/11 Fuels Management Specialists. A Fuels Academy can provide a means to attract, develop and retain employees into these much-needed positions. This pilot program is designed to be national in scope, serving all forests in all regions that express a need to recruit and fill fuels management positions. The pilot program is designed to be a four to six-year undertaking; one year to design, develop, staff, initiate and hire candidates to launch the program, followed by three to five years to deliver the program (see Timeframe below for details).

 

Objectives (Task)

  • Develop a Fuels Management Specialist Academy Pilot Program – Initiate efforts in Fiscal Year (FY) 19.
  • Recruit and hire approximately 20 Fuels Management Specialist Trainees (10 minimum) into the Pilot Program – Target October 2020.
  • Deliver a Fuels Management Specialist Academy Pilot Program – FY21 through FY23 with optional extension to FY25 if demand exists to add an additional 10-20 trainees starting FY23.
  • Monitor to determine if Fuels Academy Pilot Program was successful in developing a sufficient number of fuels management specialists to fill these GS-0401 positions and whether or not the Pilot Program should be discontinued, continued, or modified.

 

Background (Purpose)

GS-0401 series Fuel Management Specialists bring a unique blend of professional and operational fire management skills that allows them to perform scientific analysis in the NEPA Inter-disciplinary Team and project planning role, as well as oversee and supervise prescribed fire and other field operations. These positions require both positive education (equivalent to a Bachelor's degree) and fire qualifications such as Burn Boss, Firing Boss, or Incident Commander.

Our ability to fill these positions is not keeping pace with workforce demands. While GS-0462 fuels positions have held relatively steady, there has been a 28% drop in the number of GS-0401 fuels positions despite a 56% increase in funding and a 113% increase in targets over the last five years (Table 1).

 

Table 1. Shifts in the number of USFS Fuels positions relative to the overall Hazardous Fuels Program between 2014 & 2019.

Year Encumbered Position with "Fuels" in the Title GS-0462 Fuels Positions GS-0401 Fuels Positions Appropriated Hazardous Fuels Funding Hazardous Fuels Accomplishment Targets
2014* 350 218 130 $278,340,000 1.6 M acres
2019** 305 211 94 $435,000,000 3.4 M acres
Net Change -45
(-13%)
-7
(-3%)
-36
(-28%)
+$156,660,000
(+56%)
1.8 M acres
(+113%)

*Note: 2014 query 350 encumbered positions with "Fuels" in the title.
**Note: 2019 query for standard "Fuels" position descriptions. Individual position descriptions not in overall count.

 

Other contributing factors and items for consideration include:

  • Demand for hazardous fuels program leadership continues to rise; according to FY20 Budget Program Direction, we expect a $20 million increase in hazardous fuels funding and a corresponding increase of +130 staff years (aka full time equivalents); the target for FY20 is once again set at 3.4 million acres with continued discussion of setting it at 3.5 million by FY21 as described in Executive Order #13855 (12/21/18).
  • We do not have a pool of GS-0401-05/07candidates to fill our GS-0401-09/11 positions and many outreach and vacancy announcements for GS-0401-09/11 fuels positions fail to attract candidates. Currently, no units have utilized the GS-0401-05/07 position descriptions.
  • Applicants routinely find it problematic to convert from GS-0462 or GS-0301 series into GS-0401 at the GS-09 and above because of OPM qualification requirements on accredited education. There is also difficulties demonstrating/crediting GS-0401 specialized experience since experience gained while in a GS-0462/GS-0301 position is normally not qualifying.
  • Existing national training programs such as the Wildland Fire Apprentice Program (WFAP), Prescribed Fire Training Center (PFTC), National Advanced Fire and Resource Institute (NAFRI), Developmental Interagency Hotshot Crews (Redmond, Redding, Ashville), and similar resources excel at providing employees with quality learning opportunities. These programs can be leveraged and incorporated into a structured "academy" approach for developing employees through a progressive training regimen to help fill the current void we have in the GS-0401-09/11 Fuels Management Specialist positions.
  • Strong support and interest exists among Universities who see a direct link between their degree programs and our desire to find graduates to fill these positions; opportunities for partnerships and mutual support abound to support qualified graduates beginning their careers in fire/fuels management as well as increasing our ability to attract current and future employees who endeavor to pursue careers in fire and fuels.

 

Desired Outcome (End-State)

The two full performance Position Descriptions (PDs) that Forests typically seek to fill are:

  1. GS-0401-09 (FS0273) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels – Moderate Complexity).
    (1) Exempt; Approved for Secondary Fire Fighter (FF) Retirement Coverage.
    (2) Requires RXB2 (which requires ICT4) and either ENGB, CRWB or HMGB.
  2. GS-0401-11 (FS0274) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels – High Complexity).
    (1) Exempt; Approved for Secondary FF Retirement Coverage.
    (2) Requires RXB2 and either ICT3 or TFLD or HEBM.

The desired end-state is for all trainees to attain all required skills and qualifications to be converted into the full-performance PD for which the trainee was hired to fill, either the FS-0273 (GS-09) or FS-0274 (GS-11).See timeframe below for more details on the expected progression from trainee to the desired end-state.

We recognize that achievement of the RXB2 and related qualification requirements for the full performance PDs above may not always be achievable within 3-years. Therefore, it will be necessary to use a PD that allows the trainee to continue gaining knowledge and experience at a reasonable pace until they can achieve the required qualifications for the full performance position they were hired into.

The Fuels Academy will use the following PD as the goal for all Academy graduates by the end of their 3rd year:

GS-0401-09 (FS4491) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planner).
(1) Exempt; Approved for Secondary FF Retirement Coverage.
(2) No fire qualification requirements.

 

General Description for the Fuels Academy Pilot Program

 

Key Stakeholders

Client

Forest Level Line Officers and Staff Officers Seeking Fuels Program Leadership

Sponsor

WO-Fire and Aviation Management:
Shawna Legarza – WO-FAM Director
Mark Lichtenstein – WO-FAM Deputy Director
Clint Cross – WO-FAM Assistant Director, Landscapes and Partnerships
Frank Guzman – WO-FAM Assistant Director, Workforce Development & Training

Program Leader(s)

Frankie Romero – WO-FAM Fire Use and Fuels Program Manager
Jay Winfield – WO-FAM Director National Fire Training Centers

Program Coordinator

Michelle Woods – WO-FAM Training

 

Academy Training Model

A 3-year concentrated program centered on Fuels Management. Each year will consist of three basic components:

  1. Residential Academy Training Sessions. All academy participants convene at a given location for approximately 2-4 weeks of classroom and field training one to two times per year. Focused on knowledge/skills for fuels management specialists; may include required NWCG training for pursuit of Rx fire qualifications; offers exposure to field operations such as mechanical fuels work; and concentrated instruction on fuels planning and analysis and the Fuels Management Specialist role including the NEPA process.
  2. PFTC Experience & Training. Academy participants working toward required Rx Fire Qualifications (FIRB, RXB2) will be expected to attend PFTC for a 20-day session each year for the three years they are in the Academy program to accelerate their experiential learning opportunities and support their pursuit of required prescribed fire qualifications.
  3. Home Unit Supervision, Corporate Training & On-the-Job Training. Home unit supervisor led in conjunction with Fuels Academy staff guidance and tracking using the Academy Individual Development Plan.
    (1) May include additional training such as NWCG courses, NEPA, contract administration, basic supervision, leadership, etc.
    (2) May include additional work experience opportunities as needed to support individual development needs; examples include Training IHC opportunities (Redding, Redmond, Asheville), assignments with Wildland Fire Modules, shadow/detail assignments working with experienced Fuels Management Specialists, targeted fire assignments related to their required qualifications (i.e. ICT4, Single Resource Boss, etc.)
    (3) May include specific work assignments and accomplishments to demonstrate competencies such as NEPA IDT participation, fuels project analysis & design, etc.

 

Who Pays For What?

WO-FAM Pays For:

  • Temporary staff, logistics and support costs to deliver academy sessions.

Local Unit Pays For:

  • Employee Salary, TOS, Uniform, etc.
  • Travel for Trainees to attend one to two Residential Academy Sessions Per Year for three years.

 

Timeframe for Fuels Academy Pilot Program

 

Description of Work

Start and End Dates

Phase One -
Create Academy Framework

Establish Steering Committee & define required competencies, develop curriculum, development plan, recruit cadre, identify venues, establish administrative/logistical support structure including temporary staff, etc

Spring 2019 - Winter 2021

Phase Two -
Internal Interest Assessment

Solicit interest and identify specific Forests with positions that agree to fill Fuels Trainee positions; Seek 10 or more positions to make viable academy

Winter 2019/20

Phase Three -
Outreach, Recruit & Hire

Circulate outreach, advertise, recruit, and hire candidates for 1st Cohort

Summer 2020 – Fall 2020 (target hiring for October 2020)

Phase Four -
Academy Pilot Year 1

Deliver Training Cycle Year 1 for 1st Cohort

Calendar Year 2021 (1st Session January/February)

Phase Five -
Academy Pilot Year 2

Deliver Training Cycle Year 2 for 1st Cohort

Calendar Year 2022 (1st Session January/February)

Phase Six (Optional) -
Interest, Recruit & Hire 2nd Cohort

Solicit interest and identify specific Forests with positions that agree to fill Fuels Trainee positions, advertise, recruit, and hire candidates for 2nd Cohort

Spring 2022 - Fall 2022 (target hiring for October-November 2022)

Phase Seven -
Academy Pilot Year 3

Complete Training Cycle Year 3 for 1st Cohort Complete Training Cycle Year 1 for 2nd Cohort (optional)

Calendar Year 2023

Phase Eight -
Academy Pilot Year 4

Academy Graduation for 1st Cohort; Complete Training Cycle Year 2 for 2nd Cohort (optional)

Calendar Year 2024

Phase Nine -
Evaluation

Decision to either terminate Pilot Program or transition to regular program of work and begin preparations for recruitment of additional cohorts

Spring 2024 - Summer 2024

Phase Ten -
End of Pilot Year 5

Complete Training Cycle Year 3 for 2nd Cohort; Academy Graduation for 2nd Cohort (optional)

Calendar Year 2025

 

The Academy is expected to provide enhanced training and experience opportunities along with the Home Unit for a 3-year period, after which the Home Unit would remain the key party responsible for the continuation of the employees training and development.

It is fully expected that many if not most trainees will require more than three years to gain the operational experience necessary to achieve RXB2 and other required qualifications for the desired end-state positions (PD#s FS0273 or FS0274). The goal of the Academy therefore is to help trainees reach the GS-09 Fuels Planner position (FS4491) where they can continue to work with the home unit to progress with their qualifications required for final conversion into either the GS-09 (FS0273) or GS-11 (FS0274) full performance PD (see table below).

 

Table 2. Fuels Academy Pilot Program, expected progression from trainee PDs through the final Targeted PDs at either the GS-09 or GS-11 level.

Year

Training & Development Responsibility

Grade/Position Description

Qualification Requirements for Position

1

Fuels Academy + Home Unit

GS-0401-05 (FS4540) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

2

Fuels Academy + Home Unit

GS-0401-07 (FS4541) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

3

Fuels Academy + Home Unit

GS-0401-09 (FS4491) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planner)

N/A

4+

Home Unit

GS-0401-09 (FS0273) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels – Moderate Complexity)

RXB2, ICT4 and either ENGB, CRWB or HMGB

4++

Home Unit

GS-0401-11(FS0274) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels – High Complexity)

RXB2 and either ICT3 or TFLD or HEBM

 

Outreach, Advertisement & Hiring

We anticipate that some Forests will seek to fill GS-09 and others GS-11 positions based on local organizational needs. Therefore, there will be two advertisements to select from depending on the local units need:

 

Advertisement #1: GS-0401-05/07/09/09 Prescribed Fire and Fuels – Moderate Complexity

Grade

Position Description

Required Fire Quals

GS-0401-05

(FS4540) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

GS-0401-07

(FS4541) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

GS-0401-09

(FS4491) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planner)

N/A

GS-0401-09

(FS0273) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels) – Moderate Complexity

RXB2 and either ENGB, CRWB or HMGB

 

Advertisement #2: GS-0401-5/7/9/11 Prescribed Fire and Fuels – High Complexity

Grade

Position Description

Required Fire Quals

GS-0401-05

(FS4540) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

GS-0401-07

(FS4541) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planning) Trainee

N/A

GS-0401-09

(FS4491) Fire Management Specialist (Fuels Planner)

N/A

GS-0401-11

(FS0274) Fire Management Specialist (Prescribed Fire and Fuels) – High Complexity

RXB2 and either ICT3 or TFLD or HEBM

 

These positions will be filled through competitive hiring under DEMO authority to allow us the greatest flexibility to reach a broad pool of prospective candidates.

We hope to proceed on the following timeframe for recruitment and hiring:

  • Outreach: Targeted for July/August 2020
  • Advertisement: Targeted September 2020
  • Selection/Hiring: Target October 2020
  • On-boarding: Target November/December 2020)

Temporary or permanent employees that already have one or more seasons of fire experience and meet the education requirements (Bachelor's degree or equivalent with 24 credits in applicable fields) are the most likely candidates for these positions.

To qualify, candidates must meet the following:

  1. OPM requirements for GS-0401 which includes successful completion of a full 4-year course of study in an accredited college or university leading to a bachelor's or higher degree that included a major field of study or specific course requirements in biological sciences, agriculture, natural resource management, chemistry, or related disciplines appropriate to the position. It can also be a combination of education and experience which includes courses equivalent to a major, as listed above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.
  2. Minimum of 90 day's experience performing on-the-line (Primary/Rigorous) wildland fire suppression duties as a member of an organized fire suppression crew or comparable unit that utilized knowledge of wildland fire suppression, containment or control techniques and practices under various conditions.
  3. Optional: Three years or more of primary/rigorous wildland firefighting experience
    (1) This may allow a candidate to maintain Special FF/LEO retirement coverage – retirement eligibility will be evaluated on a case by case basis.
    (2) A candidate without three years of primary/rigorous fire experience who meets the 90-day minimum may still accept the position under a regular government retirement even if they do not qualify for special LEO/FF retirement. Eligibility for fire fighter enhanced retirement coverage will be dependent on individual circumstances.
    (3) If a job offer is made, an applicant may request that a retirement eligibility determination be made before accepting or declining the offer.

A candidate that qualifies at the GS-07/09 level could be hired at the higher level or potentially at the lower grade with pay set appropriately; regardless, they would still enter the Fuels Academy Program at Year 1, working with Academy Staff and the Home Unit supervisor to customize their development plan to fit their individual needs.

 

Supervision, Mentoring, & Coaching

Supervisory responsibility remains with the home unit that hires the trainee.

The involvement of the Home Unit Supervisor will be critical to the success of each employee in the program.

The Fuels Academy staff will work closely with the Supervisor to train them in the use of the Academy's Individual Development Plan (IDP) and will help guide the Supervisor in how to plan and track IDP activities to ensure the Trainee has a meaningful learning experience.

A "Mentor" is someone who models skills or behaviors that a trainee wants to develop themselves whereas a "Coach" is an experienced practitioner who can help trainees navigate the workplace and direct them toward resources and opportunities for the trainee to grow their own skills. Home unit supervisors can sometimes serve in these roles, but upon request the Fuels Academy may also help connect trainees with a Mentor/Coach other than the home unit supervisor through cadre, steering committee and other networks.

"Graduation" from the Fuels Academy program requires satisfactory completion of all elements of the program as described upon entry by the Academy staff. The Academy staff will determine if the requirements for graduation have been met and will continually provide the supervisor and employee with status reports.

It is entirely up to the home unit supervisor whether or not successful completion or "graduation" from the program or related status reports provided by the Academy will influence the employee's performance rating and have implications for an induvial trainee's continued employment or performance improvement.

 

Monitoring and Evaluation

Each year the Steering Committee (Frankie Romero, Heath Cota, Linda Chappell, Will Basye, Sarah Synowiec, Tim Yurkiewicz and Lisa Renken) will work with the Cadre to monitor:

  • Whether curriculum is tracking with competencies/proficiencies.
  • Whether training delivery and curriculum are effective and adjust accordingly.

Program Leaders will evaluate whether the program is proving successful at the end of the 2nd year (FY22) and assess whether there is still demand for more trainee fuels positions. Based on that evaluation, a decision can be made whether to recruit/hire an additional 2nd cohort of approximately 20 employees to begin training in FY23, or simply complete the training of the current cohort.

Program Leaders will conduct a final program evaluation either in 2023 or 2025 (depending on if one or two cohorts enter the program) to gauge the effectiveness and value of the pilot program; criteria evaluated may include the following:

  • How many trainees are or expected to be functioning at the desired full performance level?
  • What was the graduation/attrition rate?
  • Are line officers and fire managers who sponsored candidates interested in filling additional positions in this manner? Did the program serve their needs?
  • Have line officers and fire managers who did not sponsor candidates heard about it and is there a showing of interest for additional trainee positions?
  • How much did this cost? Is the return on investment acceptable?
  • Is this program sustainable with the current staffing levels and commitment of resources or is it under/over taxed? Can it sustain given current organizational structures?

Based on that evaluation, a decision will be made by the two Assistant Directors with advice from the Steering Committee to either proceed with or discontinue the program.

  • Discontinue. Do not recruit/hire a 3rd Cohort (2025) and terminate the program after the 2nd Cohort completes the program on or around 2025.
  • Continue. Proceeding with identifying positions to recruit/hire a 3rd Cohort (2025), refine the program, and continue with the established training cycle.