EPA Regional Offices Getting a New Look

Beginning this week, the EPA is going to start implementing its plans to reorganize the 10 regional offices to more closely resemble the organizational structure at the headquarters in Washington, D.C. Plans for this move were announced back in September 2018 via a memo to EPA staff. According to a letter sent by Administrator Andrew Wheeler, this standard structure will be implemented this week at regions 3, 6, and 10. The remaining regions will change their structure the week of April 28th. According to Administrator Wheeler, the realignment will lead to improved coordination between the national programs and regional counterparts; more consistent implementation of regulations and policies; better resource sharing; and enhanced operational excellence and transparency.

The reorganization will result in the Regional and Deputy Regional Administrator at the top. Environmental justice, the National Environmental Policy Act, civil rights, public affairs, tribal and international affairs, environmental education, children’s health, and applicable geographic programs will be included in offices immediate to the Regional Administrator. Then there will be eight different divisions covering air & radiation; mission support; enforcement & compliance assurance; regional counsel; land, chemicals & redevelopment; superfund & emergency management; water; and laboratory services & applied science. The ten regional offices cover all 50 states as well as territories of the United States. Region 1 is located in Boston and covers Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Region 2 is located in New York and covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Region 3 is located in Philadelphia and covers Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Region 4 is located in Atlanta and covers Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Region 5 is located in Chicago and covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Region 6 is located in Dallas and covers Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Region 7 is located in Kansas City and covers Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. Region 8 is located in Denver and covers Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. Region 9 is located in San Francisco and covers a wide geographic area including Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. Region 10 is located in Seattle and covers Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and 271 native tribes.

According to many news reports, former and current EPA employees are nervous that the reorganization could be used as a method for shrinking the agency and ensuring tighter political control over the regional offices, which is where most of the career employees with the agency work. According to Gary Morton, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents around 8,000 EPA employees, “[e]mployees are very concerned about the future of their careers because of the realignment.” According to a report in E&E news, the EPA has memorandums of understanding with several different unions representing EPA workers on implementation of the realignment. These MOUs provide for divisions of office space, telecommuting, training for assignments of new duties, requests for new assignments, etc. One of the concerns is that the establishment of the divisions may take enforcement decisions away from career professionals and move them to political appointees, and result in a limitation of enforcement altogether.

Senator Tom Udall, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee wrote a letter to Administrator Wheeler addressing the reorganization plans as well as attempted budget cuts to the agency the past few years. Senator Udall reminded the Administrator that all reorganizations must be submitted to both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for approval. He went on to enumerate some of the commitments made by then Deputy Administrator and Chief of Operations Henry Darwin in a letter regarding the proposed reorganization back in November 2018. These commitments included maintaining the ten regional offices; not moving staff geographically; not reducing staff; not demoting staff; not closing or downsizing regional offices or laboratories; not requiring existing staff to recompete for positions; providing the Appropriations Committee with quarterly staffing data and updates on request; and providing quarterly compliance and enforcement data. Senator Udall noted that he did not object to the reorganization proposal on the basis of these commitments. He also noted that he was concerned by continued administration efforts to dismantle the EPA and suggested that the EPA leadership focus on staffing shortages and failure to meet minimum milestones for activities rather than organizational structure. He indicated that he expected the EPA to develop a comprehensive workforce plan to achieve staffing levels commensurate with 2019 appropriations; prioritize enforcement activities; prioritize communication with states, tribes, and EPA staff; and fully implement agreements with staff and unions. Senator Udall asked for a written response to these items no later than April 24, 2019.

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