The pending buyouts for U.S. EPA employees could mean an exodus from the agency's scientific research shop.
An email from the National Treasury Employees Union Chapter 280 to its members at EPA, obtained by E&E News, detailed the breakdown of expected buyout offers for each program and regional office. Altogether, EPA plans to offer to buy out 1,227 positions, with 655 of those offers going to positions within agency headquarters.
EPA's Office of Research and Development — the agency's science arm — will receive the highest number of potential buyouts, at 183.
The Office of Administration and Resource Management will be offered up to 98 buyouts, while the Office of Land and Emergency Management will receive up to 94.
In EPA's regional offices, the Philadelphia-based Region 3 office is eligible for 159 buyouts — the most among the regional offices. The Dallas-based Region 6 shop could see 147 employees take the offer.
Employees who take the early retirements or buyouts will have to leave the agency by Sept. 2, according to a Wednesday internal memo from Sarah Dunham, acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation, to her staff that was obtained by E&E News.
Eligible employees could begin applying for voluntary early retirements and voluntary separation incentive payments or buyouts starting last Thursday and have until July 26 to submit their applications.
Last week, EPA formally announced to its employees that the Office of Personnel Management and U.S. Office of Management and Budget had approved a proposal to begin offering voluntary early retirements (E&E News PM, June 20).
Union officials are expecting more buyout offers to come from the Trump EPA on top of the 1,227 that could come from this round.
"That's a far cry from the 3,200 positions mentioned by Mr. Pruitt and the White House. That means that additional offers are likely in FY 2018, which starts on October 1," the Wednesday email to the union members read.
That could be good news for employees who aren't eligible this time around but who may be looking to leave the agency, the email noted. "Perhaps all hope is not lost for those of you who want to bail," it said.
The aim of the agency offers is to eliminate positions the administration does not consider necessary or to reduce the pay grade of the position, according to the union email. An NTEU Chapter 280 official explained that EPA had not negotiated with unions about which offices would be offered the most buyouts. The administration and senior career staff at EPA came up with the numbers on their own.
The email states that the agency is planning to offer both buyouts and early retirements together, which will restrict the number of voluntary early retirements offered by the agency.
According to another internal EPA document obtained by E&E News, 3,654 EPA employees are eligible for voluntary early retirement, but only 195 employees are expected to take the offer.
The number of voluntary buyouts offered only covered a fraction of the staff eligible to accept them. For example, while ORD received 183 buyout offers, the number of eligible ORD staff across the agency totaled 1,787. Also, total buyouts at the Office of Air and Radiation were 20, while 1,273 employees would qualify.
The union chapter email noted that even those employees who met the criteria to receive a buyout might not get it if the agency decided it did not want to eliminate the position or reduce its grade. If more people request buyouts than the agency is offering, then offers will go first to the most senior employee, and then, if all else is equal, to the person who applied first.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.