Agency to offer early retirement, buyouts

By Kevin Bogardus | 04/19/2017 01:20 PM EDT

U.S. EPA will begin offering early retirement and buyout packages to its staff to comply with President Trump’s order to reduce the federal workforce.

U.S. EPA headquarters in Washington.

U.S. EPA headquarters in Washington. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

U.S. EPA will begin offering early retirement and buyout packages to its staff to comply with President Trump’s order to reduce the federal workforce.

In a memo obtained by E&E News, acting Deputy EPA Administrator Mike Flynn told senior officials that the Trump administration has required all agencies to downsize, including EPA.

"The [Office of Management and Budget] guidance also requires all agencies to begin taking immediate actions on near-term workforce reductions. In light of this guidance, we will begin the steps necessary to initiate an early out/buy out (VERA/VSIP) program," Flynn said in the memo, dated Monday.


"Our goal is to complete this program by the end of FY 2017."

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said the move by EPA to pare down its workforce is "good government."

"Streamlining and reorganizing is good government and important to maximizing taxpayer dollars. This includes looking at developing opportunities for individuals to retire early," said the EPA spokeswoman.

"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," she said.

In his memo, Flynn is referring to an OMB order issued last week that requires agencies to reorganize and reduce their workforce. That memo also ended President Trump’s governmentwide hiring freeze, but Flynn said that would continue at EPA.

"Given our resource situation, we will continue a freeze on external hiring," said the agency No. 2.

Flynn said there would be "very limited exceptions" to that freeze, pending approval by him on "a case-by-case basis." In addition, "internal reassignments may proceed where appropriate," though that may require approval by senior officials.

Flynn also said a work group has been formed at EPA "to begin scoping out an approach" for developing its agency reform plan in response to the OMB guidance. That plan is due by June 30, along with a workforce reduction plan, a strategic plan for fiscal 2018 to 2022 and a plan to "Maximize Employee Performance."

Trump has proposed massive budget cuts for EPA that would slash 31 percent, or $2.6 billion, of its funding. Those cuts would affect the workforce, leading to nearly 4,000 fewer positions at the agency, according to an internal EPA budget document.

EPA’s plan to offer early retirement and buyouts to employees could be just the first step in a long and painful process. The agency may have to institute a "reduction in force," or RIF, due to sparse funds, though there is no mention of that in Flynn’s memo (Greenwire, April 5).

Joe Edgell, senior vice president for the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 280, an EPA union, said he doesn’t believe the agency’s early retirement offers are necessary.

"If the agency insists on getting rid of employees, however, then it should be done on a voluntary basis. VERAs and VSIPs are far preferable to RIFs," Edgell said.

John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents thousands of EPA workers, said those at the agency close to retirement may take the buyout.

"However, for our younger staff, why would they separate from the U.S. EPA? Where would they get gainful employment?" O’Grady said.

"The last VERA/VSIP was not as successful as the agency had desired. This one may fare no better."