More than 1,200 positions targeted for early retirement, buyouts at EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to cut 8 percent of its workforce by early September through early retirement and buyouts.

In a memo from Acting EPA Deputy Administrator Michael Flynn, and obtained by Federal News Radio, he said the agency plans on submitting its agency-wide VERA/VSIP proposal to the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget for approval later this month, with more information about which positions will be included in the program by July.

Officials from the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents EPA employees, said the maximum number of offers under the agency’s VERA/VSIP proposal is 1,228 employees agency-wide.

The last effective date for employees to leave the agency is scheduled for Sept. 2.

“[VERA/VSIP] … can help us realign our workforce to meet changing mission requirements and move toward new models of work,” Flynn said in his letter to employees. “The authority encourages voluntary separations and helps the agency complete workforce restructuring with minimal disruption to the workforce.”

Flynn said the agency is looking at a variety of factors to determine which positions will be included in the program.

Those factors, Flynn said, include “increasing supervisor-to-staff ratio; consolidating support functions; restructuring or reducing highly graded supervisory and non-supervisory positions; focusing on core business functions, programmatic and STEM priorities, and consolidating and streamlining programs and functions.”

Union officials told members that this latest VERA/VSIP memorandum of understanding (MOU) “is extremely similar to MOUs signed between the agency and most of the unions in 2014 and 2015.”

“This MOU incorporated suggestions made by union representatives during negotiations over the VERA/VSIP offerings in 2014 and 2015,” officials said.

The MOU directives include:

  • Informing employees by email or by writing about which jobs and positions are eligible for the program, and how many offers are available for each position or job series.
  • Employees can withdraw their application for separation up to one day before they leave.
  • Giving preference to senior employees if there are more applicants than offers available.

The agency — like the rest of the executive branch agencies — is also balancing their budget amid the governmentwide reorganization requirements.

EPA would lose about 3,800 full-time employees, or 24 percent of its workforce, under the president’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal. The White House proposed a $5.7 billion budget for EPA, which is a 31 percent cut from 2017.

EPA is setting aside $12 million to help cover early buyouts and early retirements, but union officials said the problem is that the maximum amount of money an employee can get from voluntary early retirement or voluntary incentive payouts is $25,000.

“People who are right at the point of retiring are going to say, ‘Hey, I’m going to wait a little bit for this buyout and get a $25,000 check on my way out anyway,’” said John O’Grady, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which specifically represents EPA employees. “It may encourage some to retire a bit early, but $25,000 after taxes doesn’t go very far unless you’re really at the point of retiring.”

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General reported that in 2014, the agency spent $16.2 million under its VERA/VSIP authority — $11.3 million for early out/buyout incentives for 456 employees, and $4.9 million in annual leave payments.

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