E&E News obtained an email from the National Treasury Employees Union to its members at EPA stating EPA plans to buy out 1,227 positions, 655 of which will be from agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. EPA employees could apply for buyouts starting last Thursday and must submit their decisions by July 26. The layoffs will occur over the next two months.
EPA will offer employees up to $25,000 in cash in exchange for them leaving. This is a standard practice for federal employees that allows them to retire early and still qualify for full benefits.
The largest number of buyouts, 183, will come from the Office of Research and Development. EPA will also offer buyouts to 98 employees at the Office of Administration and Resource Management, and make the same offer to 94 workers at the Office of Land and Emergency Management.
EPA will also offer buyouts to eligible employees at regional offices spread through the country. The email indicated EPA is expected to offer more buyouts after the initial 1,200.
“That’s a far cry from the 3,200 positions mentioned by Mr. Pruitt and the White House,” reads the Wednesday email obtained by E&E News. “That means that additional offers are likely in FY 2018, which starts on October 1…Perhaps all hope is not lost for those of you who want to bail.”
President Donald Trump’s “skinny” budget would ultimately reduce EPA’s 15,000-employee workforce by more than 3,000 positions. Trump called for a 25 percent reduction to EPA’s workforce and a 31 percent cut to the agency’s budget.
The union suspects the purpose of the buyouts is to eliminate jobs the Trump administration does not consider necessary.
The EPA’s acting chief financial officer distributed a memo in May outlining plans to buyout employees to reduce the agency’s workforce to comply with an executive order from Trump. EPA began offering buyouts in April after Trump issued an executive order to eliminate waste and redundancies in federal agencies.
Paying EPA employees to leave their jobs isn’t anything new. Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA paid more than $11 million in incentives to compel 436 employees to voluntarily leave their jobs in 2014. This was done to reduce payroll expenses.
EPA employees have been some of the most hostile to the new administration’s policies. An anonymous EPA communications career employee told Pro-Publica in January that “more than a few friends were ‘coming to work in tears’ each morning as they grappled with balancing the practical need to keep their jobs with their concerns for the issues they work on.”
Trump pledged during his campaign to get rid of the agency “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits left.” Many of EPA employees were so scared of Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the agency, they called their senators to complain.
A leaked memo from Trump’s transition team indicates that the administration ultimately plans $513 million in cuts to the “states and tribal assistance grants,” $193 million from eliminating agency global warming programs and another $109 million in savings through cutting “environment programs and management.”