More than 17,000 Environmental Protection Agency employees will be spared a final furlough day that had been scheduled for Aug. 30, Administrator Gina McCarthy announced today. In a message to EPA staff, McCarthy attributed the decision to savings found elsewhere in the agency’s budget.
“The choices we made are difficult, but we continue to be flexible—applying good management decisions to ensure we continue to carry out our mission and reduce the impact of sequestration on each employee,” McCarthy said, according to a transcript provided by the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many EPA staff.
In recent weeks, the Defense Department, IRS and Housing and Urban Development Department have also trimmed previously scheduled furlough days. The cancellation of the Aug. 30 day means that EPA employees will have taken about six days of unpaid time off, said John O’Grady, president of the AFGE’s Chicago local for the agency. While the cancellation is “wonderful” news, O’Grady said, he questioned whether furloughs had been needed in the first place.
“We’ve been trying to tell them that all along,” O’Grady said. “Finally it seems that we had somebody who listened.”
My name is Andy and if you haven’t guessed it yet, I am one of the reporters here at the Federal Times. For the last few weeks we have had a new feature on our blog, “Silver Screen Feds,” where we look at famous federal employees in cinema and television. This week my partner-in-crime and colleague Steve Losey is spending time with his family, so instead of doing all the work myself, you guys get a clip-show version of everything we have done so far.
Below are each of our entries in the ongoing series, so feel free to read and enjoy them. Post your own suggestions in the comments and let us know what you think.
In our first entry I took a look at the postal workers who save the day in the 1947 classic “Miracle on 34th Street.” And Stephen examined the tragic flaws that brought down the Environmental Protection Agency’s Walter Peck in 1984′s “Ghostbusters.”
Next, we examined a far less-honorable mailman — Newman from “Seinfeld” — and the surprising heroism of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Hank Schrader in “Breaking Bad.”
In our third entry we picked two federal employees who couldn’t be any more different: Dr. Edwin Jenner, the doomed researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the zombie apocalypse show “The Walking Dead,” and Ranger Smith, the hapless National Park Service ranger who can’t stop Yogi Bear from stealing them pic-a-nic baskets.
In our fourth entry we took a trip back to the Roaring Twenties and the lawless days of Prohibition, to look at the best and worst Treasury agents who ever busted up a still on-screen: Legendary lawman Eliot Ness from the 1987 film “The Untouchables,” and deeply disturbed Agent Nelson Van Alden from HBO’s series “Boardwalk Empire.”
And in our latest entry I took a look at the best team of federal employees ever to grace the big screen: Mission control from “Apollo 13.” And keep reading for Stephen Losey’s take on Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Russ Cargill, from “The Simpsons Movie” — the first character we’ve profiled who descends into outright super-villainy.
In a memo earlier this month, the Office of Management and Budget ordered agencies to step up planning for across-the-board budget cuts set to begin in March. Along the way, OMB added, agencies should involve employee unions “to the fullest extent practicable” in any decisions on hiring freezes, furloughs and other measures to cut workforce costs.
John O’Grady questions whether that message made it to the Environmental Protection Agency. O’Grady heads the American Federation of Government Employees local that represents some Chicago-area EPA staff and is also treasurer for the union’s national council of EPA locals. He sees little evidence that the agency is making much effort at outreach.
“It’s maddening,” he said last week after joining in an agency conference call that, by his account, produced little of note. “People are sitting in their cubes, they’re waiting for this hammer to go down and nobody’s giving them any information.”
In the Jan. 14 memo, acting OMB chief Jeff Zients declared that agencies had already engaged in “extensive planning” for the possible cuts, formally known as sequestration. Based on documents that O’Grady shared with FedLine, EPA officials either aren’t very far along or aren’t willing to explain what’s in store for EPA’s 18,000-strong workforce.
In an extensive request for information last month, for example, O’Grady asked the agency for a list of functions nationally that could be downsized if the cuts—formally known as “sequestration”—take effect as scheduled March 1. The union also sought a list of all contracts and a rundown of any contractor-performed functions that could be transferred to federal employees in the event of sequestration.
In its reply this month, EPA declined to provide any answers. “The union’s request is overly broad, unduly burdensome and the union has failed to state a particularized need for the requested information,” wrote Mitch Berkenkemper, the agency’s director of labor and employee relations.
This could be seen as typical labor-management sparring, but the information blackout at EPA and other civilian agencies stands in sharp contrast to how the Defense Department is proceeding. In the last two weeks, the military services have outlined a host of steps–including civilian hiring freezes, layoffs of temporary employees and possible furloughs–that are under way both to prepare for sequestration and the possibility of a year-long continuing resolution.
This could be seen as prudent planning that might have the side benefit of reminding members of Congress that the cuts would have a nationwide impact. The consensus is growing, however, that lawmakers and the Obama administration will fail to reach the agreement needed to avert the reductions, at least initially.
The latest to sound that view was House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis. “I think the sequester is going to happen,” Ryan said yesterday on the NBC talk show, “Meet the Press.”
EPA is already taking some small downsizing steps. Last month, the agency offered $25,000 buyouts and early retirement for up to 29 employees in its Washington, D.C. Office of Environmental Compliance and Assurance, and another 88 for staff throughout its San Francisco-based Region 9 bailiwick.
“Region 9 sought the authorities to facilitate the restructuring of enforcement work into a single enforcement division,” Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld wrote in a Dec. 3 memo. “The retirements will help us achieve voluntary staffing reductions and create opportunities to recruit entry-level employees.”
An EPA spokeswoman referred FedLine’s emailed questions on sequestration planning last week to OMB, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Several agencies have partnered to launch an online system for streamlining Freedom of Information Act requests.
The website, Foiaonline.regulations.gov, allows the public to submit FOIA requests, file appeals, search through requests from others and access previously released documents, the National Archives and Records Administration announced Monday.
NARA is partnering with the Commerce Department and Environmental Protection Agency to develop the website, which was built on the same infrastructure as EPA’s Regulations.gov website.
“FOIAonline avoided many start-up costs, resulting in a total of $1.3 million to launch and an estimated cost avoidance of $200 million over the next five years if broadly adopted,” NARA said.
So far, the Treasury Department, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, and the Merit Systems Protection Board, have agreed to use the new FOIA portal. Agencies will be able to receive and store requests, assign and process requests, post responses, manage records electronically and more.
The website will also allow agencies to collaborate on FOIA requests and automate certain request tasks, according to OMB Watch, a government watchdog group. ”This should help speed up processing and bring down the number of backlogged FOIA requests,” the group said.
The federal government had a backlog of 83,490 requests in fiscal 2011, up from 69,526 in fiscal 2010, according to FOIA.gov.
For now, users of the new FOIA website will not be able to track the progress of their FOIA request or communicate with the agency processing a request. Don’t be surprised if you can’t view details of the FOIA requests but, instead, get a message saying the description of this request is under agency review.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a publication get a story as blatantly wrong as the Daily Caller’s dubious “scoop” this week, claiming the Environmental Protection Agency is going to hire 230,000 new workers.
Here’s the background. The EPA is trying to enact a new, controversial “tailoring” rule allowing it to focus enforcement of greenhouse gas emissions on just the biggest polluters, “shielding small polluters from rigid Clean Air Act permitting requirements.” The New York Times quoted EPA as saying without the tailoring rule, about 6 million facilities could need permits for greenhouse gas standards.
Industry groups are suing EPA to strike down the tailoring rule and pare back EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act. On Sept. 16, the Justice Department filed a brief on behalf of EPA arguing the tailoring rule is legit, and if it were lifted, the cost of enforcing the Clean Air Act on everyone would be crushing — both to government and industry. Justice said:
[...] immediately applying the literal PSD statutory threshold [...] would result in annual PSD permit applications submitted to State and local permitting agencies to increase nationwide from 280 to over 81,000 per year, a 300-fold increase. [...] Hiring the 230,000 full-time employees necessary to produce the 1.4 billion work hours required to address the actual increase in permitting functions would result in an increase in Title V administration costs of $21 billion per year. [Emphasis added]
That’s a worst-case scenario, and pretty clear that they’re arguing against enforcing the regulations on everyone. But how did Daily Caller play it?
The EPA is asking taxpayers to fund up to 230,000 new government workers to process all the extra paperwork, at an estimated cost of $21 billion.
Really? At a time when agencies across the government are facing massive budget crunches, buying out employees left and right, and in some cases considering layoffs, the EPA’s work force of 19,000 is going to suddenly grow by a factor of 13? Increasing the size of the overall government by more than 10 percent? Not to mention the fact that EPA has not submitted any requests for $21 billion budget increases, and would get laughed out of Congress if they did. (For the record, EPA asked for almost $9 billion total in fiscal 2012, a 13 percent decline from 2010.) The whole idea doesn’t pass the smell test.
Politico jumped all over it Tuesday. And Erik Wemple of the Post reports that Daily Caller didn’t give EPA a call to allow them to respond, or even check to see if they were … um … actually planning to hire nearly a quarter-million new employees.
Daily Caller doubled down Wednesday and said they’re standing by their story (in an editor’s note that contained several swipes at liberal groups). They shouldn’t. It’s a piece of lousy journalism, and betrays a clear lack of understanding of the current realities of the federal work force and budget environment.
Do you want to save the planet and reduce emissions, but are unsure of how to gloat about it to your friends? Well now you have a Facebook game that will put the “win” into dwindling resources, and its brought to you by the federal government.
DoSomething.org and the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star program yesterday announced the launch of eMission, a unique Facebook game with a social mission―to increase energy efficiency and fight climate change offline.
The idea is that you get points for environmentally sustainable acts offline that are translated into points in the game. So if you begin biking to work or recycling, you do better in the game.
Now, this game is geared mostly to teenagers, although its open to anyone.
Still not convinced? Well, there is also the opportunity to win sweet, sweet swag. eMission participants can enter for a chance to win one of five $2,000 scholarships for their energy efficiency efforts, and other great prizes like signed DoSomething.org swag.
Told you there was swag.
Still not convinced? Well listen to the words of One Tree Hill actress Sophia Bush (Full disclosure: I have no idea who that is) who knows that saving the environment begins with individual actions.
“Teens are already on Facebook playing games, so why not play one that’s going to change your life for the better?”
Most Americans favor higher government-imposed fuel-efficiency standards, according to a poll released last week.
The survey of 1,000 likely voters showed 85 percent favor government requirements to increase fuel efficiency in cars and 78 percent favor government regulation reducing emissions from large trucks, SUVs and minivans.
Respondents also support increased fuel efficiency standards even if the price of the car goes up by $3,000, with 66 percent still favoring the proposal and 28 percent opposed.
The Environmental Protection Agency received a favorable response: 63 percent of respondents saw the agency favorably or very favorably.
Environment America, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists sponsored the poll, which was conducted by the Mellman Group and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
Last week I wrote about a video contest being sponsored by the General Services Administration, which is offering $2,500 to the person who best extols the virtues of the government’s information portal, www.usa.gov, through a 30- to 90-second video.
Not to be outdone, the Environmental Protection Agency is also getting into the act.
EPA yesterday launched a contest seeking videos that raise awareness about environmental justice, which EPA defines as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
Examples could include a music video about climate change or an interview about a successful environmental justice project that has made a community a healthier and happier place to live, EPA suggests.
EPA will hand out cash awards of between $1,000 and $2,500 for the top three 30- to 60-second public service announcements and 3- to 5-minute informational videos. It’s also offering $500 awards for the best videos submitted by students.
Videos must be submitted before midnight April 8. EPA will announce the winners to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day (which, by the way, was the subject of last year’s EPA contest).
Five percent of the energy federal agencies use this year must come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass, under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. That’s up from 3 percent in 2009.
To help agencies get there, the Environmental Protection Agency has a nifty mapping tool on its website that lists available green power resources by state and links to the utility companies’ websites.
The nation’s capital, for instance, has six options that include wind or landfill gas in the energy mix. California offers a dozen green power alternatives, including energy generated by wind, solar, water and landfill gas.
The tool also lists nationally available renewable energy certificates (RECs) that agencies can purchase to help them offset the use of traditional carbon-based power.
The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for the public to help it comply with an Obama administration directive to make government operations more open and transparent.
EPA has created a special website through which people can submit and vote on ideas for how the agency can solicit more feedback from the public, improve the quality and availability of information posted online and work better with groups inside and outside government. Ideas will be accepted until March 19.
EPA will use the suggestions to help write its first-ever Open Government Plan, said Linda Travers, EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator, in an Feb. 10 e-mail to members of EPA’s list serve. All agencies have until April 7 to publish these plans, which are roadmaps for how agencies will comply with the open government principles President Obama laid out in a December memorandum.