In the wake of President Donald Trump’s government reorganization directive, the Environmental Protection Agency is offering early buyouts and retirements. The EPA Acting Deputy Administrator Michael Flynn said they want to complete the early out program by June 30th.
“The OMB guidance…requires all agencies to begin taking immediate actions on near-term workforce reductions,” Flynn said. “In light of this guidance, we will begin the steps necessary to initiate an early out/buyout (VERA/VSIP) program.”
What is a Buyout?
So, what is a buyout? Agencies can offer up to $25,000 to employees who have worked in the federal government at least three years through a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment and allow employees not otherwise eligible for retirement benefits to receive them through Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. This payment is taxed. Any employee accepting a buyout must leave by a specific date. Another condition is that employee can’t return to federal employment within five years unless they repaid the entire, pretax buyout amount. OPM must approve all early out and buyout programs. OMB said OPM would “provide expedited reviews for most VERA/VSIP requests within 30 days.
While most agencies have ended their hiring freeze, the EPA is not one of them. “Given our resource situation, we will continue a freeze on external hiring. Very limited exceptions to this external hiring freeze may be permitted on a case-by-case basis with approving by the Acting Deputy Administrator,” Flynn said.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the government has an average retirement eligibility of 34 percent. The EPA is close to 45 percent.
The White House proposed a $5.7 billion budget for the EPA in FY2018, a 31 percent cut from 2017. This cut would force the agency to eliminate nearly 4,000 full-time employees and at least 50 independent programs in 2018. They have had significant spending cuts in recent years, with its spending level already cut by more than 20 percent since 2010; the EPA last offered separation incentives in 2014, paying a total of $16.2 million to 456 employees to leave the agency that year.
John O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 (which specifically represents EPA employees) said, “If the administration was interested in realigning the U.S. EPA, it would first conduct a thorough workforce and workload analysis.” The U.S. EPA Office of Inspector General and GAO have pointed this out year after year. “However, they will not do this because it would tell them that the agency is woefully underfunded and understaffed today. Any further cuts will absolutely cripple the agency.”
David Bloom, EPA’s acting Chief Financial Officer said, “The agency will continue to seek opportunities to reduce further our facility footprint and/or implement planned and pending moves in an expedited and cost-effective manner.”
The reorganization directive charges departments to submit a plan to OMB on how they will maximize employee performance. Plans will focus on reviewing/updating agency policy around limiting the use of paid administrative leave and using performance improvement plans to address poor performing employees.
By June 30, OMB will meet with agencies to review their high-level draft of their agency reform plans. Final reform plans are due to OMB by September as part of the 2019 budget proposal.