Between Emmitsburg and Capitol Hill
Both the national fire service and a union local representing federal employees are buttonholing members of Congress about developments at Emmitsburg, Md., home of the National Fire Academy and, for the moment, the U.S. Fire Administration.
The issues are the fiscal 1988 budget and the transfer of the USFA to Washington.
The Joint Council of National Fire Service Organizations is addressing the budget question. In early April, Joint Council chairman Walter Smittle wrote a forceful letter to members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Budget cutbacks contained in the Reagan administration’s 1988 budget proposal, he wrote, appear to “continue the tacit decision, not vigorously contested by the Federal Emergency Management Agency [of which the NFA and USFA are a part] to progressively emasculate and eventually totally dismember the federal fire programs.”
A month earlier, the Joint Council — an umbrella group comprising 11 organizations which represent a total of 1.3 million firefighters—had unanimously approved motions supporting continued funding where the administration budget package calls for cuts:
- $3.62 million for the USFA’s fire prevention and arson programs;
- $822,000 for the NFA’s stipend program, which pays the travel, room, and meal costs of fire sendee members who attend training programs in Emmitsburg; and
- Full funding of the National Center for Fire Research at the National Bureau of Standards.
A separate lobbying effort has arisen with National Federation of Federal Employees Local 1983 and seems to be having some success. The local represents about 100 bargaining unit employees at the National Emergency Training Center, made up of the NFA and the Emergency Management Institute. Its complaint is over a reorganize tion of training functions announced by FFMA Director Julius Becton, Jr., and scheduled to be completed by October 1.
FFMA’s director of public and intergovernmental affairs, Peg Maloy, says the realignment would strengthen the USFA — which, she reasons, would be closer to the seat of power in Washington— and the NFA, which would be one level of management less removed from Becton.
The change affecting the NFA would occur at the administrative and management levels: The Training and Fire Programs Directorate, of which the NFA had been a part, would become the Office of Training. Programs making up a “directorate,” Maloy explains, report to an associate director, while programs constituting an “office” report straight to the director.
Local 1983 president Edward Kaplan contends the USFA’s move to Washington and earlier organizational decisions that were made by former FFMA Director Louis Guiffrida violate the Fire Prevention and Control Act, which created the federal fire programs in 1974, and subsequent agreements between the White House and Congress. At each point, Kaplan argues, the parties involved made it clear that the USFA was to remain the NFA’s parent organization.
Maloy responds that the USFA and NFA have been separated since each became a part of FFMA in 1979. And she adds that because some administrative duties would move to Washington with the USFA, the programs remaining in Emmitsburg would get some personnel slots back for training. In shufflings over the past several years that have themselves been controversial, both the NFA and EMI have had to assign significant portions of their staffs to administrative functions.
But as Fire Engineering went to press, the Senate Appropriations Committee had directed FEMA not to act on the changes yet. The full Senate hadn’t yet voted on that directive.