By JIM RUTLEDGE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Since the U.S. EPA announced a multimillion-dollar staff buyout program this summer, hundreds of employees have left the agency – including many top-level scientists – the first wave of thousands to be laid off or fired.
At the beginning of last month more than 400 of 1,227 people offered the buyouts have quit as the agency plans a sweeping campaign to cut more than 3,200 EPA jobs that would reduce the agency’s staffing to the lowest point in more than 30 years.
In an attempt to learn the details of the staff reductions and who was subject to the buyouts, Farm World made multiple calls and sent emails inquiries to various offices of the EPA but none were returned.
The agency had set aside $12 million to cover the buyouts, but it was unclear if that would be enough. In 2014, the EPA shelled out $11.3 million in incentives to cover 456 employees who left voluntarily. If that figure is any indication of the cost, then it may end up costing the EPA more nearly $30 million in buyouts for 1,227 workers.
Hardest hit, according to the Wall Street Journal, will be EPA’s office of Research and Development that plans to cut 183 workers. The agency had previously announced it hoped to complete the summer buyout initiative by early September.
At the beginning of the year, the agency had 15,376 employees. According to the government’s Office of Management and Budget, about 20 percent of the EPA’s workforce is eligible for retirement today.
Once the buyouts and layoffs have been completed, the EPA will face the smallest operating staff since the 1980s.
While the agency seeks to reduce its overall budget by at least 31 percent, chopping it to $5.7 billion from $8.2 billion, Congressional investigators are demanding explanations from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for spending taxpayer dollars for his use of multiple military flights and one chartered flight that cost nearly $60,000.
According to Journal, New York Times and Washington Post reports, Congress is also questioning Pruitt spending $25,000 to build a custom soundproof audio booth for making private phone calls – something none of his predecessors had.
Questions are being raised for his use of EPA criminal investigators that have now been reassigned to triple a 24/7 security detail for Pruitt’s protection. No previous administrator used this type of security – a move that also limits the number of field agents to investigate environmental crimes.
In the past several months at least two top scientists have resigned from the agency, including Dr. Elizabeth Southerland, former director of science and technology at the EPA’s Office of Water, who quit over the agency’s massive budget cuts.
She joined Mike Cox, a climate change adviser for 25years, who quit in a scathing letter to Pruitt challenging his climate change policies.
During May and June, Pruitt gave notice to dozens of scientists that their roles on critical EPA science advisory panels would not be renewed, cutting 38 of 49 positions. The cuts took effect Sept. 1, shutting down all meetings of the various Boards of Scientific Counselors. Pruitt said he was examining their purpose and composition.
Further cuts are expected to the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee.