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EPA Offers Early Retirement, Buyout Program

The Environmental Protection Agency is offering employees a buyout or early retirement package as it prepares to cut its workforce, according to a memo distributed among high-level employees.

In the memo, Acting Deputy Administrator Michael Flynn said the agency is aiming to finish the program by October, in response to administration guidance requiring agencies to take steps toward “near-term workforce reductions.”

And though the administration lifted its hiring freeze for federal agencies, the EPA will keep its hiring freeze in place with limited exceptions and there may be “internal reassignments,” according to the memo.

The White House’s budget proposal called for the agency to cut 3,200 positions, or about a fifth of its 15,376-person workforce, as of the last fiscal year.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman, who provided the memo to Morning Consult on Wednesday, compared the program to another “early out” and buyout program that the Obama administration conducted in 2014. An EPA Inspector General report last month said the program “helped the agency accomplish certain restructuring goals.”

“Streamlining and reorganizing is good government and important to maximizing taxpayer dollars,” Bowman said in an email. “This includes looking at developing opportunities for individuals to retire early.”

That program led to 456 employees leaving the EPA at a total cost of $16.2 million. John O’Grady, president of AFGE National Council of EPA Locals #238, said in a statement that this kind of program is better for smaller reductions in the workforce, and that this program “will not get the Administration where it wants to go – the utter deconstruction of the US EPA.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Saturday that the EPA is considering combining its regional offices in Chicago and Kansas, citing a city government source in Chicago. The story prompted the union for EPA employees in the Great Lakes region to ask EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for a meeting when he was in the area.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is aware of the story and “would be very concerned about the potential impact this may have on our efforts to protect the Great Lakes,” Emily Benavides, Portman’s press secretary, said in an email on Tuesday.