The Environmental Protection Agency plans to close its Las Vegas Finance Center and relocate its staff to facilities across the country, doubling down on efforts that began last year to shrink its real estate footprint across the country.
Last year, the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, including its National Exposure Research Laboratory, ceased operations in Las Vegas and gave the 50 employees impacted by the closure about six months to relocate to new offices, accept a buyout or step down from their positions.
An EPA spokesman confirmed Tuesday that it will close its Las Vegas Finance Center and move all grants-related functions to the agency’s Research Triangle Park Finance Center in North Carolina. The spokesman said the move will “consolidate payment functions for contracts and grants within one center, thus achieving operational efficiencies for the agency and creating more cross-training opportunities for our employees.”
All non-grant payment functions, the spokesman said, will either relocate to finance centers in Research Triangle Park or Cincinnati. The move will affect 16 employees, who will be eligible for reassignment to other positions within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
The EPA has requested Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments (VSIPs) authority from the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget to give affected employees “additional options,” the spokesman said. The maximum buyout under VERA/VSIP authority is $25,000.
Government Executive first reported the EPA’s decision to close the Las Vegas Finance Center on Tuesday.
The EPA cited efforts from multiple administrations to reduce their office space, both owned and leased, as its justification for last year’s closure. The ORD and NERL facilities were leased through the University of Nevada Las Vegas.
However, the EPA had also planned to shutter the Large Lakes Research Station, an agency-owned facility in Grosse-Ile, Michigan that would impact nearly 20 emergency response employees. Employees affected by that move would work out of prefabricated office buildings situated on the site of the agency’s vehicle emission testing facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about an hour away from their old office.
Members of Congress, however, attempted to prevent the EPA from closing these facilities last year by including a provision in the fiscal 2018 spending bill that would prevent the agency from consolidating or closing any “regional offices.”
Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2020 spending bill that would prevent the EPA from closing the Large Lakes Research Station.
Closing the research station in Grosse Ile, Dingell said, would put the health of the region “at increased risk.”
“The EPA research station on Grosse Ile is critical for protecting our local environment and public health, including being home to essential emergency response capabilities,” Tlaib said in a June 20 statement.
But despite those prohibitions, the EPA proceeded with closing the Las Vegas ORD offices last year, arguing that regional offices in the spending bill referred to 10 agency hubs located across the country. The agency maintains the Las Vegas Finance Center isn’t a regional office.
“EPA has the authority to take this action. The Las Vegas Finance Center is part of the Office of the Chief Financial Officer — it is not a Regional Office, nor is it an office, facility, or laboratory within a Regional Office,” the EPA spokesman said.