Employee on buyouts: ‘Make me an offer I can’t refuse’

By Kevin Bogardus | 07/26/2017 01:19 PM EDT

U.S. EPA headquarters in Washington.

U.S. EPA headquarters in Washington. @EPAScottPruitt/Twitter

As U.S. EPA buyouts loom, one worker has drawn inspiration from "The Godfather."

"Make me an offer I can’t refuse," the employee wrote in reply to an internal EPA survey gauging interest on buyouts, playing off the famous quote from Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in the mob film masterpiece.

The comment was one of several shared in response to a survey of EPA employees conducted by the agency’s Region 9 office, its Pacific Southwest branch based in San Francisco. E&E News obtained the survey’s findings via a Freedom of Information Act request.

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Responses to the survey shed some light on EPA employees’ angst and disquiet since President Trump took office.

The White House has targeted EPA for deep budget cuts of more than $2 billion in fiscal 2018 that could result in roughly 3,800 fewer jobs at the agency, although lawmakers have pushed back on those cuts.

In addition, EPA has already begun a round of buyouts this year, proposing to have 1,227 workers leave the agency by September. EPA employees have to accept the agency’s offers for that buyout round by today (Climatewire, July 17).

Region 9’s survey closed on May 3, weeks before EPA began determining which employees were eligible for buyouts and before agency staff themselves decided whether or not to actually apply for the offers.

Still, the poll played a part in EPA’s decisionmaking behind the buyouts. In response to E&E News’ FOIA request, EPA redacted portions of the responses under the public records law’s "deliberative process" exemption, saying the redactions are "pre-decisional in nature" and have information that helped agency leaders make decisions in regard to the buyout round.

Overall, 303 people responded to the survey, with a slight majority of respondents indicating that they were not interested in accepting buyouts this year.

"If offered an early out, buyout with separation date no later than September 30, 2017, would you be interested?" asked the survey.

One-hundred-fifty-six EPA Region 9 employees selected "Not interested" in reply to that question.

‘I haven’t done the math yet’

In contrast, 130 respondents working in the San Francisco branch picked "Yes" regarding their interest in accepting a buyout. Yet several of those positive responses came with caveats, shared in the comments filed with the survey.

"The big x factor for me would be figuring out what happens to my health benefits," said one respondent who expressed interest in a buyout.

Another said, "I would absolutely want clarification on $ amount I would receive as a VSIP," otherwise known as a voluntary separation incentive payment.

Others made it known that they were just expressing curiosity in leaving EPA for a cash payment.

"Don’t really WANT to, love my job, but interested and willing to," said one respondent.

Another survey participant noted, "I haven’t done the math yet, and it may not be realistic, but I will check it out."

That interest, however muted, may be enough to meet the San Francisco office’s buyout goals. EPA’s Region 9 branch can offer up to 23 voluntary buyouts to its employees this summer, according to an eligibility notice obtained by E&E News that was sent to staff by acting Region 9 Administrator Alexis Strauss.

"As our organization explores various workforce planning efforts, we want to take advantage of these and other flexibilities and tools to help ensure that our workforce possesses the mix of skills most appropriate for carrying out our mission," Strauss said.

"This decision was not made lightly; we value our dedicated employees and appreciate the work you perform on behalf of the American people," she said.

The buyout incentive — a maximum of $25,000 — may not be enough to have EPA employees jump ship. Several agency staffers have told E&E News that they plan to weather the storm under the Trump administration, wanting to fulfill the agency’s mission, while some are worried that they won’t be able to find jobs outside of the agency (Climatewire, July 20).

One career EPA employee said they like public service and drawing closer to retirement, the staffer wouldn’t have accepted a buyout if offered one by the agency.

"I just want a little more financial stability," said the employee. "25K doesn’t quite tip the scales for me."

Another career employee would not have taken a buyout either if offered, due to worries over impending bills.

"My daughter is in college right now. I don’t want her to be one of those poor kids owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans," said the EPA staffer, who plans to retire next year when eligible.

Click here to read the responses to the EPA Region 9 employee survey on buyouts.

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