The federal government has dropped a plan that would have have transferred management of the Pine Ridge Job Corps Center and 15 others from the U-S Forest Service, part of the Ag Department to the Labor Department for operation by contractors, a proposal that would have seen all the employees at the centers lose their jobs later this year and nine other Job Corps Centers close.
A statement released by both departments Wednesday night says that “for the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer the centers to DOL” and will instead conduct a “robust organizational review” of the Forest Service role in Job Corps management and operation.
Chadron banker Clayton Riesen is Community Relations Chairman for the Pine Ridge Center and says the announcement is great news for everyone.
Secretary Sonny Perdue and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta had announced the proposal just before the Memorial Day weekend, with Perdue saying it would allow the Forest Service to more clearly focus on and prioritize its core natural resource mission of improving the condition and resilience of the nation’s forests.
The Chadron community and those of the other affected Job Corps Centers around the country reacted with grassroots efforts to lobby Congress about the importance of keeping the centers with the Forest Service because of the quality and type of training the students receive, including one vital to this region – training in firefighting.
The efforts paid off. The announcement that the deal was off cited “robust engagement with stakeholders and Members of Congress” led to the Forest Service decision to “evaluate the feedback while reviewing its role in Job Corp management and operation.
Clayton Riesen says it’s clear from the USDA/BOL statement that Pine Ridge and the other Forest Service Job Corps Centers remain at risk long-term. He compares it to the situation in Rapid City, which formed a special group to support Ellsworth Air Force Base after it was threatened with closure more than 20 years ago.
3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith and U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, both Republicans, originally indicated support for the transfer plan with each saying they would monitor the transition to make sure quality training continued to be offered, but have since come out against it.
Smith was among the strong majority of the House that last week passed an amendment to a bill funding several agencies, including the Labor Dept, that barred any more for the Job Corp transfer.