The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will set aside $12 million for buyouts and early retirement to slash the agency’s workforce under the Trump administration.
David Bloom, the EPA’s chief financial officer, detailed in a memo how the agency plans to spend $24 million in “carry-over funds” or money not spent over the past fiscal year onto the current fiscal year.
Bloom wrote, “Senior leadership made decisions to allocate the carry-over funds set aside earlier this year to address agency’s priorities for incentive payments for workforce reshaping, support for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OGC), travel for the Administrator’s protective detail, rent, continued space reduction efforts, eDiscovery, agency cloud services and the OGC’s workforce support.”
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said, “Streamlining and reorganizing is good government and important to maximizing taxpayer dollars. This includes looking at developing opportunities for individuals to retire early. 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.”
The White House released a preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018, which would slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent and reduce its 15,000-person workforce by more than 3,000 people.
In April, the EPA announced it will start offering buyouts as part of its response to President Donald Trump’s executive order to streamline agencies.
Acting deputy administrator Mike Flynn stated in a letter to regional administrators and other staffers that the agency will start carrying out the President Trump’s directive to trim down the EPA.
Flynn wrote, “In light of this guidance, we will begin the steps necessary to initiate an early out/buy out … program.” The deputy administrator added that the EPA intends to complete the first buyouts by the end of September.
Deputy administrator Flynn also mentioned that, despite the federal government lifting the hiring freeze, the EPA will not hire more staffers. Flynn said, “Given our resource situation, we will continue a freeze on external hiring. Very limited exceptions to this external hiring freeze may be permitted on a case-by-case basis.”
The EPA has two avenues to entice employees to leave the agency. A buyout, otherwise known as the “voluntary separation incentive payment” or VSIP, is a cash payment to have the federal employee leave voluntarily. The maximum payout could reach as high as $25,000.
The EPA can also offer employees early retirement, which would allow them to receive full retirement benefits before the normal retirement schedule for federal employees. This would allow federal staffers to retire at age 50 with 20 years of service or at any age with 25 years of time working for the government.
Myron Ebell, President Trump’s former EPA transition team head, hopes that the president can cut the EPA’s workforce by at least half. Ebell said, “Let’s aim for half and see how it works out, and then maybe we’ll want to go further.”
“President Trump said during the campaign that he would like to abolish the EPA, or ‘leave a little bit,” Ebell said. “I think the administration is likely to start proposing cuts to the 15,000 staff, because the fact is that a huge amount of the work of the EPA is actually done by state agencies. It’s not clear why so many employees are needed at the federal level.”