Tight budgets will dramatically curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to perform its traditional enforcement mission, according to a draft agency strategic plan.
The agency estimates that over the next four years:
■ Inspections and evaluations will fall to an average of 14,000 a year, down a third from the 2005-2009 baseline of 21,000 annually.
■ About 220 million pounds of water pollutants will be reduced, treated or eliminated annually, also down a third from the earlier baseline.
■ 10,000 civil judicial and administrative cases will be wrapped up by 2018, a drop of almost half from the previous goal.
“Agency and numerous entities vital to our success . . are all operating under resource constraints that could impede our mutual progress,” EPA officials wrote in a draft version of its 2014-2018 strategic plan. In response, the agency will collaborate in new ways, leverage resources as much as possible, and “continually seek new opportunities to work more effectively and efficiently,” the plan states.
EPA has been hard hit by spending cuts in recent years. For fiscal 2014, the agency will get $8.2 billion, or almost 2 percent less than last year. As of September, its workforce numbered about 17,000, down from 18,750 two years earlier, according to Office of Personnel Management statistics. EPA recently launched a round of early retirements and buyouts to entice hundreds more employees to leave on their own.
Nonetheless, the agency continues to vigorously enforce environmental laws, ranging from cases like the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to smaller cases aimed at reducing air toxins, spokeswoman Caroline Behringer said in a statement.
Like other agencies, EPA is supposed to unveil the final version of its 2014-2018 strategic plan March 4 in conjunction with release of President Obama’s 2015 budget request. The synchronized effort, required under the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act, is a first, intended to encourage agencies to work together in setting long-term goals, said John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for The Business of Government.
“We’ll see if it happens, but it’s possible,” Kamensky said.
In their drafts, other agencies also mention the potential impact of spending restraints, but more as a caution. For the Securities and Exchange Commission, which regulates financial markets, its ability to meet performance goals is “inherently dependent” on obtaining sufficient resources, according to its plan.
The drafts also highlight other hurdles that agencies foresee.
With 15 percent to 25 percent of the Energy Department’s employees — including some of its most highly skilled and experienced professionals — expected to retire in the next decade, “serious workforce challenges” lie ahead, the department said in its draft. By the end of fiscal 2016, DOE officials also want to cut by half the cost per employee of providing human resources services through reducing bureaucratic stovepipes and moving to a “corporate approach,” according to the plan. ■