President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, released earlier this month, would continue down a path of major workforce reductions at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a nonpartisan coalition of former agency employees.
While the EPA has seen a gradual reduction of employees since the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Network, a nonpartisan organization comprised of more than 200 former EPA and state environmental agency employees, says the Trump budget plan would continue “an aggressive pattern of slashing EPA staff.”
In a budget analysis document released Feb. 20, EPN finds the White House spending plan, if implemented by Congress, would reduce the EPA’s workforce to about 12,250 employees, a 17 percent reduction from its current staffing levels.
“The damage inflicted on EPA by the Trump proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019 would be more punishing than for any other federal agency, cutting the agency by 26 percent compared to its 2017 funding,” EPN wrote in its analysis of the White House’s spending plan.
Since President Donald Trump took office, about 700 employees have left the EPA — about 400 under the VERA/VSIP offers, plus an additional 300 employees who have retired on their own accord.
While the president’s budget proposal has been described as more of a “policy document” than a concrete budget path for Congress to follow — especially after Congress struck a deal to raise spendings caps in 2018 and 2019—David Coursen, a budget analyst at EPN, who previously worked at EPA’s Office of General Counsel for more than 20 years, told Federal News Radio that the Trump spending plan represents a commitment to downsizing the EPA.
“The idea that it’s an actual basis for EPA’s future operation is probably not terribly useful … [but] the rhetoric in the administration sort of normalizes the idea that the EPA needs to be shrunk significantly — that it’s too big,” Coursen said Friday.
While the budget proposal may be wishful thinking for the Trump administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has kept the agency’s hiring freeze in place, which Coursen said has led to a significant loss of agency employees through attrition.
“Because of the retirement cycle, an awful lot of the people who left were scientists, and given how harshly the budget treats science, I suspect that is not unwelcome for the administrator,” he said.
EPN finds the FY 2019 Trump budget would cut 48 percent of EPA’s science funding — including toxicology, engineering, chemical testing and disaster relief.
Coursen said not filling positions vacated by retirements can create very uneven staffing levels in certain EPA departments.
“If you simply don’t replace people who retire, you may end up having fewer retirements in one area and a lot in another. And that other area with a lot of retirements would be crippled,” he said.
The Trump administration’s proposed budget for EPA in FY 2019 echoes its proposal for the agency in FY 2018, except for a $327 million increase in Superfund program spending proposed in a budget appendix after Congress raised spending caps.
“By repeatedly suggesting cuts of this magnitude, it normalizes the expectation that EPA’s budget should be reduced dramatically,” Coursen said.
In a statement provided by the American Federation of Government Employees and its local Council 238, which represents more than 8,000 EPA employees, Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator under the Obama administration, blasted the Trump budget proposals.
“This budget is a fantasy if the administration believes it will preserve EPA’s mission to protect public health. It ignores the need to invest in science and to implement the law; the lessons of history that led to EPA’s creation 46 years ago; and the American people calling for its continued support,” McCarthy said.