Shrinking EPA Workforce Has Already Reached Reagan-Era Levels

From
  • The agency is now about the same size as it was in 1989
  • In the generation since, new and updated laws have blossomed

Scott Pruitt

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Retirements and departures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have shrunk its workforce to levels not seen since the Reagan administration.

As of Jan. 3, the agency employed 14,162 employees, down from about 15,000 people when President Donald Trump took office. If all employees who are eligible to opt to retire by the end of current term in 2021 then the workforce will have shrunk by nearly half.

“We’re proud to report that we’re reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement from the agency.

Pruitt is among several Trump cabinet officials who have embraced the idea of shrinking or restructuring their agencies. The Interior Department this week revealed plans to decentralize the 70,000-employee agency and dramatically change the way it manages 500 million acres of public land and water across the country.

The reorganization, set to be the largest in the department’s 168-year history, could result in shifting tens of thousands of workers to new locations and moving the headquarters of major bureaus within Interior, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Related: U.S. Interior Department Proposes a Sweeping Reorganization

The EPA says its current level of 14,162 people was last seen during the final year of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, which ended in January 1989.

More than 18,000 people worked for EPA in 1999, said John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents many EPA employees.

“In the course of those 18 years there’s been increased programs for EPA and our budget has basically not been flat, it’s actually been regressing, when you look at current dollars,” he said in an interview last month.

The agency’s website lists 27 laws and orders, more than half of which have been enacted or updated since Reagan left the White House. They include everything from major legislation, such as two in 1990 alone -- the Clean Air Act Amendments, which reduced pollution linked to acid rain, and the Oil Pollution Act, which empowered the EPA to do more in the wake of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.

Trump and Pruitt have moved to undo Obama-era regulations designed to address climate pollution. A proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the previous administration’s attempt to cut the emission of heat-trapping gases from power plants, is open to public comment through Jan. 16. Other rules, governing methane-emission reporting and building flood standards, have also been designated for re-examination.

Pruitt and the agency’s chief operating officer, Henry Darwin, who left the same position in Arizona’s state government last summer, are relying on a "lean manufacturing" approach inspired by Toyota Motor Corp. Darwin has a long history of implementing Toyota’s concept, which focuses on labor-management dialogue to curb defects and cut delays. 

The EPA is also leading discussions with several other agencies about entering into a contract with Toyota’s nonprofit management spinoff to help it accomplish regulatory-efficiency goals set down in two executive orders last year.

— With assistance by Jennifer A Dlouhy

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
    LEARN MORE