Feds ask fire managers to give back overtime pay
Judd Slivka
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 18, 2002 12:00 AM

When millions of acres of fires burned across the West this summer, the federal government paid some of its most experienced fire managers lots of overtime. Now it wants some of that money back.

And if the money isn't paid back by the end of this month, those folks will be charged 4.5 percent interest.

A bureaucratic snafu resulted in fire managers surpassing the $121,600 total salary limit.

"Most of my overtime came during the 'Rodeo-Chediski' fire," said John Bedell, the supervisor for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. "I knew I was going to exceed the cap, but it was an emergency. . . . What am I supposed to do? Tell them I won't work?"

Most of the approximately 100 managers being asked to pay back money owe a few thousand dollars, like Bedell. But a few people owe upwards of $20,000.

Calls from The Republic spurred Agriculture Department and Forest Service managers into action.

"The Forest Service's intent is that we're going to treat each employee fairly," spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevich said. Both the Forest Service and Agriculture Department have special spending authority to solve the problem, Valetkevich said.