Staff cuts under way at the EPA | KUOW News and Information

Staff cuts under way at the EPA

Apr 20, 2017

The Trump administration has lifted a hiring freeze for federal agencies, but not at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to internal documents obtained by KUOW.

Trump proposed cutting the environmental agency's budget by 31 percent, more than at any major federal agency, and scrapping 56 programs there, including funding for Puget Sound restoration.

This week, even though Congress has final say when it comes to spending, administration officials told EPA brass to start letting go of employees through buy-outs and early retirement offers.

The White House’s goal is to eliminate more than 3,000 EPA positions by the end of the year.

“The president is imposing his will based on his expected budget before he even has a budget,” former EPA Northwest regional chief Dennis McLerran said. He resigned in January.

EPA’s workforce peaked in 1999 at about 18,000 full-timers. It’s now down to 15,000 (with 520 employees working in the Northwest region spanning Alaska to Idaho). The Trump administration wants to drop the staff down to 11,500, the smallest since 1984, when the U.S economy was about half its current size.

McLerran said the cuts would come on top of repeated cutbacks under the Bush and Obama administrations that have already put the agency under “severe budget stress.”

“The biggest potential danger here is that the budget will be dramatically cut," he said. "That would mean that there wouldn't be folks enforcing the laws, that there wouldn't be oversight of states, that there wouldn't be an effective agency.”

Internal documents obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club show 350 frozen vacancies nationwide. EPA’s Northwest region has 17 vacancies, including climate change advisor – a position recently vacated loudly by Michael Cox of Bainbridge Island — and a half-dozen scientists.

Top White House budget official Mick Mulvaney said in March that spending on climate change “is a waste of your money.”

Thousands of scientists and their supporters are expected to march on Saturday in favor of scientific research, at the EPA and elsewhere.

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