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US EPA Offers Buyout Program to Reduce Staff

The US EPA is offering its employees a buyout program to reduce staff, according to an internal memo. The memo sent to all US EPA employees by Acting Deputy Administrator Mike Flynn (the  other Mike Flynn, not the former United States National Security Advisor) on June 1, 2017, did not give a dollar figure for the buyouts or say how many employees US EPA administrators hoped would take the offer. However, the Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment Authority (VSIP) allows agencies that are downsizing or restructuring to offer employees lump-sum payments up to $25,000 as an incentive to voluntarily separate, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

The memo stated that the Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) and VSIP, which are frequently referred to as early outs and buyouts, “can help us realign our workforce to meet changing mission requirements and move toward new models of work. The authority encourages voluntary separations and helps the Agency complete workforce restructuring with minimal disruption to the workforce.”

Politico reported in February 2017 that the White House had proposed reducing US EPA’s budget by about a quarter and eventually eliminating 1 in 5 of the agency’s workers. That proposal would set US EPA’s budget at $6.1 billion, down from $8.1 billion. Reuters reports the US EPA would see the biggest cuts of any federal agency in the 2018 budget proposal, with a 31 percent reduction in budget and the elimination of over 3,200 employees. The US EPA employs about 15,000 people.

In the memo, Flynn said the White House Office of Management and Budget must still approve the buyout plan. The US EPA and other federal agencies have offered buyouts to employees from time to time in the past.

VERAs allow federal employees to retire before they hit the standard combinations of age and years of service. According to the Government Accountability Office, the government has an average retirement eligibility rate of 34 percent. While some of the large agencies are at or below that average, US EPA is close to 45 percent.

The memo states that employees accepting a VERA/VSIP must leave the agency by early September 2017. Once a buyout is accepted, that employee may not return to federal employment within five years. Commonly, buyouts are paired with early retirement offers.

In May 2017, it was widely reported that the US EPA was setting aside $12 million of its fiscal 2017 budget allocation for the employee buyout and incentives effort.