A former Arizona state official brought to EPA by Scott Pruitt to streamline agency operations got a promotion yesterday in the wake of the embattled administrator's departure.
Henry Darwin is taking on the duties of deputy administrator at EPA.
Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced Darwin's move up yesterday in his address to employees. Darwin joined EPA last summer as assistant deputy administrator and chief of operations.
An EPA spokesman told E&E News that while he is serving as acting administrator, Wheeler will be delegating his deputy administrator responsibilities to Darwin.
In his year at EPA, Darwin has been at the forefront of effort framed as making the agency quicker and more effective, measuring its performance with new metrics and instituting the so-called Lean management system. He had done similar work in Arizona as chief of operations for Gov. Doug Ducey (R) and before that as director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).
Pruitt touted Darwin's reforms at EPA as well as his time at ADEQ in an interview last year with The Daily Signal, the conservative Heritage Foundation's news organization.
Pruitt said Darwin had told him that ADEQ under his watch had gone from an agency of 700 employees to 350 but was improving its performance and would better tabulate its results. At EPA, Darwin has set up a "dashboard" to measure the agency's results every day, the former administrator said.
"The Darwin Effect is in full force and we are going to make sure that we achieve accountability," Pruitt said.
Darwin has been an advocate for bringing the Lean system more into play at EPA, speaking to staff about its benefits over the past year.
"The system at its core is designed to keep small problems from becoming big problems," Darwin said in one meeting with EPA employees.
Some employees have worried that Lean could be used to shrink EPA's workforce. But Darwin told E&E News last year that it shouldn't be seen as a precursor to downsizing the agency (Greenwire, Oct. 6, 2017).
"It's about becoming more efficient and being able to perform the work that you do better," he said, "not necessarily with less people."
Stan Meiburg, formerly acting deputy EPA administrator in the Obama administration, said Darwin should be careful how the Lean system is framed for employees.
"It will be much more effective if he resists the temptation to use Lean as a code word for cutting the budget. It should not be: EPA has never had sufficient resources to carry out its mission, and needs all the efficiencies it can find," he said.
Meiburg, who now teaches at Wake Forest University, still considers Darwin a "solid choice" for the deputy job, given his state government experience.
"My sense is that he has been reaching out to the career staff as partners in the management of the agency," he said.
Like other political appointees in the Trump administration, Darwin has had quibbles with the federal agency that now employs him.
At ADEQ, he resisted federal efforts to limit greenhouse gases. Darwin questioned whether EPA has the authority to regulate those emissions under the Clean Air Act as proposed by the Clean Power Plan, according to his written testimony before Congress. Trump's EPA has begun to roll back that Obama-era rule.
Darwin's wife, Veronica Darwin, also works at EPA as a senior adviser for the Office of Land and Emergency Management.
She, too, has Arizona state government experience, having worked at ADEQ as well as at the state's Department of Administration and the Office of Economic Opportunity. She also worked for the EPA Region 9 office as a compliance officer for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, according to her resume.
Darwin has said in a recusal statement that he would not take part in "any award, promotion, or any other personnel or administrative matter" that involved his spouse.
In an email released to the Sierra Club under Freedom of Information Act litigation, the couple's excitement in joining EPA was evident. They were trying to find a location to be fingerprinted as part of their background investigations before coming to the agency.
"We are both anxious to get started!" said the email, signed "Henry and Veronica."
Darwin introduced Wheeler for the acting chief's remarks to EPA employees yesterday. The new deputy emphasized that Wheeler wants to hear from all employees, so they should be ready to participate.
"I have seen firsthand how thoughtful and collaborative he is in his approach to issues. In meetings, I regularly see him seek out the opinions of others, career and politicals alike, so be alert," Darwin said, to murmurs in the crowd.
Meiburg offered some advice to Darwin in his new role.
"Focus on the things needed to make a large organization operate effectively in a complex governmental structure, and keep some distance from policy controversies," he said.
"The former role is quite enough of a full-time job."