S. 1993

21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act of 2015

STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1993, THE 21ST CENTURY CONSERVATION SERVICE CORPS ACT OF 2015.

March 17, 2016

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1993, the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act of 2015. 
The Department supports enactment of S. 1993, which would codify, strengthen, and broaden the Administration’s 21CSC program, helping to better fulfill the Administration’s commitment to increase employment and training opportunities for our nation’s young people. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the committee on amendments and clarifying language described later in this statement.

In 2010, President Obama created the America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to encourage Americans, particularly young people, to enjoy our country’s rivers and waterways, farms and forests, and local and national parks. As part of this initiative, the President called for the creation of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) to establish quality jobs, career pathways and service opportunities for youth and veterans. Building on this vision, Secretary Jewell launched a youth initiative to inspire millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work outdoors.

As a part of this effort, the Department and its land management bureaus, along with the U.S. Forest Service, have established public-private partnership programs that we identify as 21CSC partnerships. The Department carries out these activities under authorities provided in the Public Lands Corps Act, which is limited to the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture. 
The Administration’s 21CSC builds on existing partnerships with youth conservation corps across the country, placing young people, including those from underserved communities, and veterans in the United States, in national service positions to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s public lands, waterways and cultural heritage sites. The 21CSC also helps federal land management agencies meet their missions by leveraging existing resources to carry out cost-effective natural and cultural resource protection and conservation projects while providing valuable community service opportunities, job skill development and pathways to careers in resource stewardship.

In 2014, the Department, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Interior bureaus including the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, collaborated on 51 21CSC projects that benefited youth and veterans. These 51 projects leveraged $1,992,067 into more than $7 million, employed approximately 700 youth and veterans, engaged more than 1,850 volunteers within the local communities, and conducted activities on over 200 miles of public lands. Activities undertaken by 21CSC participants included, among others, trail maintenance, watershed restoration, and forest regeneration, invasive species removal, and historic preservation. A few specific examples of public-private partnerships help illustrate the success of the 21CSC.

In Oregon and California, as part of this initiative, the Klamath Bird Observatory (KBO) built on a long-standing partnership with the BLM and FWS to expand its internship program and improve outreach to underserved communities, including Native American and Hispanic youth. The combination of KBO’s established long-term monitoring program and an intensive bird banding training curriculum foster the integration of youth engagement and professional training. The internships have provided opportunities for training and practical experience in bird monitoring techniques; learning through a well-rounded curriculum in field biology; and attaining bird bander certification through the North American Banding Council.

In Arizona, the Conservation Legacy worked with Bureau of Indian Affairs to lead an eight-person Native American youth crew in completion of natural resource conservation projects on the Navajo Nation. The crew consisted of local area high school students and two adult crew leaders. During the four-week program the crew restored and stabilized Hubble Wash, maintained trails, and repaired and constructed wildlife fencing.

In New Mexico, the Talking Talons Youth Leadership, in partnership with the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), the Bureau of Reclamation, the New Mexico State Land Office, Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District, the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program, Amigos Bravos, Friends of the Valle de Oro, and Friends of the Sandia Mountains provided approximately 560 hours of paid employment for urban and minority youth in conservation work that benefited the public lands and mission of the Valle de Oro NWR, Reclamation, and State of New Mexico. In addition to receiving in-depth education and training in diverse aspects of environmental restoration, monitoring, and stewardship, crew members conducted surface and groundwater quality monitoring and remove invasive vegetation on 80 acres on the Refuge and adjacent federal and state lands.

And, in Maine, Friends of Acadia hired young people to work on projects with the National Park Service in Acadia National Park, including creating the “Acadia Technology Trail,” working to engage the public in raptor viewing opportunities, and working on a trail crew mediating trail issues. Many of the youth work experiences occur in accessible, highly visited areas, such as Sieur de Monts Springs.

If enacted, S. 1993 would establish into law the 21CSC and increase the number of federal departments and agencies authorized to partner with 21CSC organizations and participants to support and carry out 21CSC projects. These entities would include the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Transportation, Labor, Energy, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Commerce and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Council on Environmental Quality, the Corporation for National and Community Service, Army Corps of Engineers and any other agencies as designated by the President. The authority provided by this bill would give participating agencies flexibility to support 21CSC projects in a manner consistent with each agency’s mission and resources.

The bill would require coordination among federal agencies to ensure project efficiencies and facilitate approval of corps organizations to participate in the 21CSC. Under the bill, participating agencies would be required to report to Congress to ensure 21CSC activities are carried out in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

The legislation would also allow agencies to provide non-competitive hiring status for participants for two years after completing service if certain terms are met. We believe that this is an essential expansion of the non-competitive hire period of 120 days provided under the Public Lands Corps, which provides an authority the Department uses currently to hire former conservation corps participants. We strongly support this provision which we believe will increase diversity in recruitment and note that it is consistent with Public Lands Corps Act amendments the Administration included in the National Park Service Centennial Act which has been introduced in this Congress by Senator Cantwell as S. 2257.

S. 1993 would also provide a 10 percent cost-share requirement for 21CSC organizations. Under the Public Lands Corps Act, this required cost-share is 25 percent. The Department supports this provision which would enable a greater range of organizations such as smaller, community-based organization that draw from low-income and rural populations to participate in the 21CSC.

We recommend amending the definition of “youth” in S. 1993 to expand eligibility of young people to age 35, to broaden the range of eligible participants. Under the bill as introduced, eligibility ends at age 28. We would also welcome the opportunity to work with the sponsors and the Subcommittee to clarify provisions related to service hour requirements for eligibility for noncompetitive hire status, in addition to other technical changes. Finally, we note that the Department of Labor has identified concerns with section 6(c) regarding certain labor laws. Interior is committed to working with the Department of Labor and the Subcommittee to address those concerns.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee may have.