Federal Officials Reverse Course On Privatizing Western Slope Job Corps Center

June 20, 2019
Photo: collbran job center | students firefighting-- courtesy
Students from the Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center learn how to work on a firefighting team. Federal officials Wednesday reversed a decision to privatize the federal job center.

Colorado's only center, Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center on the Western Slope, was told early this month that it would be transferred to a private company.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, the privatization is on hold while they consider their role in operating the centers.

“For the time being, USDA does not intend to transfer these centers to [the Department of Labor] to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity,” a department spokesperson said in a statement. “DOL and USDA will conduct a robust organizational review to determine the appropriate course of action keeping in mind the USFS mission, the students we serve, and the American taxpayers. As USDA looks to the future, it is imperative the USFS focuses on and prioritizes its core natural resource mission to improve the condition and resilience of our Nation's forests.”

The Collbran center has been helping educate and employ rural youth for over 50 years through a federal job corps program.

“While it’s welcome news that the administration listened to our calls and reversed their misguided proposal, the fact is this never should have happened in the first place. With little warning and no justification, the Trump Administration’s plan to privatize the Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center left the center’s students and employees in limbo. Collbran's training programs have equipped young people with essential jobs skills, and support critical fire prevention and natural disaster response across the state. We will continue our efforts to ensure the Collbran Job Corps, and centers like it across the country, can continue to serve our rural areas for years to come."  

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced May 24 it was ending its long-standing Forest Service job training program. There are 25 centers nationwide.

The 46 employees in Collbran were told they would lose their jobs at an undetermined point in the future. Center director Evonne Stites, who’s been with the center for two decades, said she was told by federal officials that she and the rest of the staff would have the option to retire or to re-apply and interview for their positions with a contractor.

A staffer at the center said Thursday that they had not heard from the federal government about the impact of its latest decision.

U.S. Representative Scott Tipton and senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet joined more than 50 other members of Congress in sending the USDA and Department of Labor a letter in early June questioning the move and asking them to reverse the decision.

“After a difficult year of natural disasters and with hurricane and wildfire season quickly approaching, now is precisely the wrong time to be reducing capacity at CCCs,” the members of Congress wrote in the letter. “These centers not only help support these underserved youth and young adults with invaluable job training, but they also provide essential capacity for the U.S. Forest Service to fulfill its mission and provide economic opportunities in rural areas.”

Collbran students spend thousands of hours every year fighting fires in the state, Stites said.

“While it’s welcome news that the administration listened to our calls and reversed their misguided proposal, the fact is this never should have happened in the first place," Bennet said in a statement."With little warning and no justification, the Trump Administration’s plan to privatize the Collbran Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center left the center’s students and employees in limbo. Collbran's training programs have equipped young people with essential jobs skills, and support critical fire prevention and natural disaster response across the state. We will continue our efforts to ensure the Collbran Job Corps, and centers like it across the country can continue to serve our rural areas for years to come."