EPA plans to buy out more than 1,200 employees this summer

Source: By Brady Dennis, Washington Post • Posted: Friday, June 23, 2017

Fewer people soon will be working at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is about to start employee buyouts. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The Environmental Protection Agency plans on shedding more than 1,200 employees by early September through buyouts and early retirements, as part of a broader push by the Trump administration to shrink a government entity the president once promised to eliminate “in almost every form.”

The departures would amount to about 8 percent of the current 15,000-person workforce of the EPA, where a hiring freeze also remains in effect. The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut to its budget, the largest percentage reduction of any agency and one that could mean several thousand job losses.

In an email to EPA union leaders this week, an agency attorney said the EPA plans to make buyout offers to as many as 1,228 employees. “As of now,” the message read, “the last effective date for employee separations is September 2, 2017, so any applications would have to be in before that date.”

The agency’s buyout plans will need approval by the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget, which officials hope to receive later this month. “However, in the meantime, we are seeking to work together to reach an agreement over procedures that we will utilize for this next round — should it be approved,” the email stated.

The EPA plans to begin holding retirement training webinars for employees each Tuesday and Thursday through the end of July.

Last month, officials disclosed plans to set aside $12 million for buyouts and early retirements this year, as part of an effort to begin “reshaping” the agency’s workforce under the Trump administration.

“Streamlining and reorganizing is good government and important to maximizing taxpayer dollars. This includes looking at developing opportunities for individuals to retire early,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said at the time. “It’s a process that mirrors what the Obama administration EPA did about four years ago, to ensure that payroll expenses do not overtake funds used for vital programs to protect the environment.”

Last week, in a budget hearing on Capitol Hill, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended the push to shrink the agency.

“With respect to the proposed cuts on personnel, that is something that we plan to achieve through attrition, continuation of the hiring freeze and the initiation of buyouts,” Pruitt said. “About 20 percent of the agency is eligible for retirement today. That’s going to increase over the next several years.”

It remains unclear how the EPA plans to undertake more than 1,200 buyouts without spending more than $12 million. In 2014, according to an inspector general‘s report, the agency paid $11.3 million in incentives to get 456 employees to voluntarily leave. It shelled out an additional $4.9 million in annual leave payouts, for a total of $16.2 million.