Trump drops forest centre cuts plan

By on 26/06/2019 | Updated on 04/02/2022
Firefighting reaction: Trump administration has extinguished plans to axe forest centres (Image courtesy: Skeeze/Pixabay).

The Trump administration has reversed its decision to close or outsource US Forest Service training centres, following bipartisan opposition from Congress.

Under the plans, responsibility for the Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centres (CCCs) would have been transferred from the US Department of Agriculture to the US Department of Labor. More than 1000 jobs were set to go in the shake-up, with nine of the 25 centres closing and the remaining 16 handed over to “new contract operators or a partnership overseen by Department of Labor.”

But last week the Agriculture Department (USDA) and Department of Labor (DOL) backtracked, telling Politico News: “For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centres to DOL to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximise opportunity and results for students, minimise disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity.”

Pick your moment

Following the decision in late May to close or privatise the centres – which teach disadvantaged rural youth skills such as wildfire fighting, disaster recovery and conservation – there was an immediate backlash. In early June, more than 50 members of Congress from both parties signed a letter to the DOL and USDA, expressing “strong opposition” to the plans and urging them to reconsider.

“After a difficult year of natural disasters and with wildfire and hurricane season quickly approaching, now is precisely the wrong time to be reducing capacity at CCCs. We strongly urge you to maintain the CCC programme,” they wrote.

Cross-party action

Republican senator Steve Daines relayed concerns about the closure of the Anaconda centre directly to the president, during a phone call which resulted in Trump promising to keep that centre open.

Together with Democrat senator Jon Tester, Senator Daines then went on to introduce legislation to prevent the removal of funds from the centres.

Early last week, Tester tweeted that he was “appalled by the short-sighted decision to close or privatise all 25 Civilian Conservation Centres across the country. That’s why I’ve introduced new legislation to save these Job Corps & I won’t stop until this Administration reverses course.”

Robust reversal

The DOL and USDA said in a statement to Government Executive that the decision to keep the centres open for now has been made “following robust engagement with stakeholders and members of Congress,” and they will now “conduct a robust organisational review to determine the appropriate course of action keeping in mind the [Forest Service] mission, the students we serve, and the American taxpayers.” Ranking member of the US Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry, Debbie Stabenow, who signed the letter opposing the plan, applauded the decision to reverse it. “After broad bipartisan objection, the Administration made the right decision to maintain the Forest Service Job Corps program,” she wrote. “I urged the Agriculture and Labor Departments to reverse their plan to shutter or privatise all of these centres, which provide important job training for at-risk youth in rural communities.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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