Managers to receive cash bonuses for battling blazes

Two federal agencies will give trained managers incentives in the form of cash bonuses to help firefighters battle the worst wildfire season in decades.

Last Friday, President Clinton ordered the Interior and Agriculture departments to send 2,000 federal managers and supervisors to western states to provide support to federal and local firefighters. USDA oversees the Forest Service.

"Additional managers and supervisors are needed to ensure additional firefighting crews have the proper supervision and management support that they need in the field. This action will immediately authorize individuals working long, stressful hours to be compensated appropriately," Clinton said in a statement.

A spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management said that not all managers are eligible for overtime pay due to caps and other restrictions-a disincentive for those with experience and training in fighting fires to join the ongoing effort.

However, agencies can offer cash bonuses for special service on the job under title 5 of the United States Code, and OPM has directed Interior and Agriculture to use those existing programs to reward experienced managers who join the firefighting effort.

Federal supervisors will provide logistical support to firefighters and will help manage fire crews.

Last year, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., introduced a bill (H.R. 1770) to revise the overtime pay limitation for federal employees. The bill is currently in committee.

"I am delighted that we are dealing with the disincentive that has drained experienced supervisory people away from managerial duties to work on the fire line. It is time for the Congress to act on the administration's proposals to establish a permanent solution to this problem," said OPM Director Janice R. Lachance.

According to the the Defense Department, more than 4,600 soldiers, Marines and airmen have joined forces with federal and local firefighters and law enforcement officials to battle the blazes.

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