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New CAL FIRE Budget Could Fund Tech Projects

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection’s portion of the new Fiscal Year 2021-2022 state budget should enable it to continue its work in IT and innovation.

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A key fire protection entity will likely continue its work in technology and innovation with the new state budget in place.

Some details are still becoming clear, but the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE), which is partnering with state and federal entities on the use of technology in fire prediction, has at its disposal a new, enacted 2021-2022 Fiscal Year $2.6 billion budget. (Find the $262.6 billion FY 2021-2022 state budget here.) That’s less than the department’s nearly $3.5 billion budget in FY 2020-2021 – but more than CAL FIRE’s $2.4 billion budget in FY 2019-2020. It’s worth noting that CAL FIRE’s staffing complement rises nearly 8 percent with this new budget, from 8,134 positions in FY 2020-2021 to 8,769 positions in FY 2021-2022. Here’s what the budget could mean for technology, innovation and IT companies:

  • First among major program changes in the FY 2021-2022 budget is a Wildfire and Forest Resilience Package for “CAL FIRE Forest Health and Fire Prevention Programs and Projects.” State Senate Bill 85 delivered a $346 million one-time general fund and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund last year (FY 2020-21) “as a part of a comprehensive package to increase the pace and scale of forest health activities and reduce wildfire risk. In total, the budget includes a $1.5 billion wildfire prevention and forest resilience investment over three years ($536 million in 2020-21, $458 million in 2021-22 and $500 million in 2022-23),” per the budget. This would seem to be fertile ground for IT projects similar to one on wildfire prediction that was empowered by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s request for innovative ideas (RFI2) flexible procurement strategy. The main caveat here is that FY 2021-2022 and FY 2022-2023 allocations have yet to be “determined in subsequent legislation.”
  • In an email to Techwire, H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs at the state Department of Finance (DOF), cited the budget to point out that the $1.5 billion is to “reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires by increasing the pace and scale of forest management projects, through thinning overgrown forests, increasing prescribed burns and replanting trees.” The investment “will also enable regional efforts to build a pipeline of wildfire resilience projects, expand fire-adapted homes and communities, improve stewardship on state lands, and create high-road jobs, while jump starting small businesses that meet California’s climate objectives.” Palmer said DOF staff indicates that of the $1.5 billion above, $536 million is available for expenditure now, and most of it has already been dedicated to projects.
    “To address the scale and urgency of these wildfire risks, the budget includes $458 million in 2021-22 and $500 million in 2022-23, to support the Forest Management Task Force's Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan,” Palmer said. “The budget authorizes acceleration of the $500 million general fund (currently scheduled for 2022-23) to 2021-22, if authorized activities progress at a rate that indicates additional funding is necessary.” The funding, $958 million, will necessitate additional legislation “allocating it to specific departments.” The Newsom administration, Palmer said, will be working with the Legislature this summer on allocating the money to “priority wildfire prevention and forest resilience activities.”
  • Elsewhere in the CAL FIRE budget, IT gets a specific mention; the budget points out that CAL FIRE’s headquarters provides leadership on “central services” including information technology. CAL FIRE administration’s budget sees a nearly 7 percent increase, from $135.7 million in FY 2020-2021 to $144.8 million in FY 2021-2022. Elsewhere across the budget, there’s $5 million in general fund monies for a Wildland Firefighting Research Group that could have an intersection with IT. And there’s more than $5.6 million in general fund monies in FY 2021-2022 and 11 positions for the Wildfire Forecast and Threat Intelligence Integration Center, created in 2019 by state Sen. Bill Dodd’s SB 209. Those 11 positions include an IT specialist I, an associate governmental program analyst and a research data specialist II. (Dodd’s current SB 109, which was sent to the Assembly Appropriations Committee last month, would create an Office of Emergency Technology Research and Development within the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.)
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Techwire.