More than 400 EPA employees are taking buyouts or early retirement and will be gone by the end of September. However, that number is still far below the goal set by Administrator Scott Pruitt in July.
The EPA said at the time it would accept a max of 1,228 applications through the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments and Voluntary Early Retirement Authority Programs. The agency set aside $12 million to pay for the incentives, which max out at $25,000 depending on the tenure and salary.
According to the Washington Post, 362 employees have accepted a buyout, 12 retired at the end of August, 33 are planning to retire at the end of September, and 45 are still considering retirement offers. If all those employees leave, EPA’s workforce would drop to 14,428, which would be the smallest the agency has seen in about 30 years.
John O’Grady, president of American Federal of Government Employees National Council of EPA Locals #238 said he thinks that the continued reduction in the workforce will make it hard for the agency to respond to disasters and crises.
“It’s disturbing. We’re seeing the response to Hurricane Harvey now, and the U.S. EPA has responded to all the disasters that I can remember going to back to the anthrax problem in the Hart Senate Office Building in 2001, and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. The administration seems intent on getting the numbers of employees down further, but the question is: who’s going to do the job?”, he said.
Those who oppose the workforce cuts will keep a close eye on EPA’s responses to Harvey and Irma to see if they suffer from the latest buyouts. O’Grady said, “One thing we’re trying to find out is whether or not we’re able to respond to Harvey and Irma with the same kind of numbers as we have in the past. Our on-the-scene coordinator staffing is down, so how could we respond with that same kind of vigorous action that we have in the past?”
It is still unclear if the EPA’s budget will get cut by 31 percent, as proposed.