Simpson Remarks at FY24 Budget Hearing for the United States Forest Service (As Prepared)
The committee will come to order.
Good morning and thank you to Chief Moore for joining us here on Capitol Hill to discuss the Forest Service’s fiscal year 2024 budget request.
I am pleased to return as Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee to have the opportunity to address the critical issues and needs of the U.S. Forest Service. As a Western Member of Congress, fire is far too familiar to the communities in my home state of Idaho and across the West.
I genuinely enjoy the Forest Service employees in our region and value their important work.
They are consistently doing the best job they can with the funding and laws we enact from thousands of miles away in Washington, DC. It’s safe to say Forest Service employees are not in it for the money; they join the Forest Service for their love of the outdoors and want to do their part to conserve and protect it.
Chief Moore, I know your time as Pacific Southwest region forester for almost 15 years gave you invaluable insight into the mega-fires that impact our National Forests year after year. With two years under your belt as Chief, I look forward to hearing your perspectives on the Forest Service’s planned investments and how these reasonably build on the funding Congress provided in FY23 appropriations, as well as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.
It would be beneficial to discuss the Forest Service’s plans for implementing these additional sources of funding, which provided billions of additional dollars for the Forest Service.
Over the coming years, this subcommittee intends to actively oversee the spending of IIJA and IRA funds to ensure value for the taxpayer and our natural resources are without waste, fraud, and abuse.
For FY24, the President’s request asks for $7.43 billion for the Forest Service, an increase of $2.57 billion above the fiscal year 2023 enacted level. That’s a 53% increase.
While critical investments for the Forest Service are necessary to protect and manage our Nation’s forests and support our wildland firefighters, I have serious concerns about the scale of increases proposed in the President’s request.
We are living at a time of record deficits and debt. The Republican Conference and the Appropriations Committee have committed to taking meaningful steps to help put our country’s fiscal house in order. Like all Americans, the Federal government must live within its means, and doing so will require us to make difficult choices and discern wants from actual needs.
I’m glad to see the Forest Service budget prioritize compensation for wildland firefighters, wildland fire risk management, and access to all resources on our public lands.
Our Nation’s wildland firefighters safeguard vital benefits for communities across the Nation.
Firefighters protect our Nation’s critical infrastructure, defend lives and private property from the risk of catastrophic wildfire, preserve forests so they can better mitigate wildfire risk, and protect landscapes that contain cultural and natural resources of significance and value to Tribes.
As many of my colleagues may know, the Forest Service competes with states to hire and maintain a federal firefighting force. In the past, the Forest Service and many of the fire-prone states have not been able to offer competitive pay, so I am pleased the administration is proactively working to address these gaps.
The request prioritizes the wildland fire management workforce with $180 million for permanent firefighter pay reform, $50 million for firefighter housing needs, and $10 million towards a joint effort with the Department of the Interior for mental health and well-being programs.
While these efforts are noble and warranted, the Forest Service does not have the authority to implement any of the proposed workforce changes without the help of Congress, so I look forward to discussing that with you.
Additionally, I was pleased to see that wildland fire management continues to be a top priority for the agency in FY24. The proposal for almost $3 billion for these activities would allow the Forest Service to focus critical investments on hazardous fuels treatments and support the objectives of the agency’s 10-year strategy to confront the Nation’s wildfire crisis.
The State Fire and Volunteer Fire Capacity grants, Forest Products, as well as grazing management activities are critical to my home state of Idaho. While I noticed slight reductions to some of these programs, I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure they receive the attention and resources they deserve.
Chief Moore, thank you again for joining us this morning. Your leadership of the Forest Service is vital to our environment and communities across the country. I look forward to our discussion and working with you.
Now, I’d like to yield to Ranking Member Pingree for her opening statement.