Restoring EPA Priorities and Involving Federal Employees

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By on February 20, 2017 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Several agencies are on the political and legislative radar for significant changes or even elimination.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is one of them and the agency may have replaced the Veterans Administration for being the most frequent agency in the news.

Targeting the EPA For Elimination

Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz has submitted a bill to eliminate the agency by December 2018. Congressman Gaetz cited a quote referring to the agency as one that is “relentlessly ideological, politicized, corrupt and incompetent.”

In a recent article, he noted he is opposed to what the agency is doing and not the underlying mission:

“The EPA budget is $8 billion. Much of this money filters through to states through joint programs, but far too much is spent on Washington-driven bureaucracy and endless studies; $27 million even goes to foreign governments, while environmental priorities at home languish.”

In other words, he wants to scrap the EPA and start over with a smaller, more focused organization. This bill is not given a significant chance of passing into law.

About the EPA

While it has become a political football, the Environmental Protection Agency was actually created by an executive order under President Nixon. The order establishing the EPA was subsequently ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. It is in more recent years as the EPA has expanded its authority that it has become a source of political discontent and a target for elimination or restructuring.

The EPA now has about 16,000 employees with a budget of about $8 billion. Here are the agency totals for salaries as of Fiscal Year 2016.

Average EPA Salary $113,646
Average Federal Salary $81,578
Average Federal Salary in Washington $112,000
Total EPA Salaries $1,764,661,937
EPA Salaries in Washington $468,477,677

Salaries are much higher in a few agencies and much lower in others. Here is the salary database for EPA employees.

Newly Confirmed EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt, EPA Administrator

Scott Pruitt, the former Attorney General from Oklahoma, was recently confirmed as the new EPA administrator.

He has been involved in a number of lawsuits against the agency. His nomination has been the subject of protests by several hundred EPA employees and former employees.

John O’Grady is a biochemist at the agency and a union president at the EPA. O’Grady’s Linkedin page says he represents “over 1,000 bargaining unit employees at the U.S. EPA Region 5 Office in Chicago.” O’Grady did not welcome the victory of Donald Trump and said after the presidential election:

“People are upset. Some people took the day off because they were depressed. After Election Day, people were crying. They were recommending that people take sick leave and go home.”

Regarding the nomination of Scott Pruitt as EPA administrator, O’Grady said:

“Mr. Pruitt’s background speaks for itself, and it comes on top of what the president wants to do to E.P.A.”.

Efforts to derail the nomination by employees and others were obviously unsuccessful.

Administrator’s View of the EPA and Its Role

But what does the new EPA administrator say about his view of the agency? Scott Pruitt gave a recent interview to the Wall Street Journal’s Potomac Watch columnist Kimberly Strassel in which he provided insight into his philosophy.

Some of his answers may surprise at least a few of his most vociferous detractors. He cites work the original mission of the agency that has not been accomplished as the EPA has expanded into other areas.

He was critical of the EPA under the former administration which he says “disregarded the law.”

He cites examples of where the EPA has fallen down on the job: “We’ve made extraordinary progress on the environment over the decades, and that’s something we should celebrate. But there is real work to be done.”

He mentions air-quality targets as a continuing problem: “Under current measurements, some 40% of the country is still in nonattainment.” Additionally, “We’ve got 1,300 Superfund sites and some of them have been on the list for more than three decades.”

He expects to withdraw the Clean Power Plan and the 2015 Waters of the United States rule “[Asserting] EPA power over every creek, pond or prairie pothole with a ‘significant nexus’ to a “navigable waterway”.

He also cites problems with America’s water infrastructure. Flint, Michigan, for example, has suffered under lead in the water supply. And, in California, a major dam has been in danger of collapsing and causing major damage.

EPA’s Employees Under Administrator Pruitt

Pruitt also believes EPA agency employees should be able to embrace his priorities. Fixing pollution in the Hudson River, finally cleaning up the Hanford nuclear site, and doing direct things people can see helping should excite agency employees.

“I am committed to the role of this agency. The administration is committed to the role of this agency. There is so much to accomplish. So its important that the career staff here at the EPA know this isn’t a disregard for the agency, it’s a restoration of its priorities.”

Another priority will be to end the agency’s practice of “sue and settle.”  Ms. Strassel writes: “That’s when a federal agency invites a lawsuit from an ideologically sympathetic group, with the intent to immediately settle. The goal is to hand the litigators a policy victory through the courts—thereby avoiding the rule-making process, transparency and public criticism. The Obama administration used lawsuits over carbon emissions as its pretext to create climate regulations.”

What About Staffing Cuts?

We do not know if there will be significant cuts in the EPA workforce in coming months. There will be a reordering of priorities. As the federal workforce exists to implement policies of the administration in power, regardless of party, EPA employees will presumably now work to implement the policies to improve our environment being put into place as new officials take charge in EPA and other agencies.

© 2019 Ralph R. Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ralph R. Smith.


About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47