Several years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency faced significant structural hurdles. An aging and experienced workforce left it with a high payroll—too big for an agency of its size. So, for the first time in many years, the agency offered an early voluntary early retirement plan to long-time staff. That push ultimately resulted in approximately 800 early retirements.
Then, in spring 2015, the agency shifted its strategy to bolstering its depleted ranks. After an intense push throughout the calendar year, Karl Brooks, acting assistant administrator for the Office of Administration and Resources Management, told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 9 the agency is now “pretty much” where it wants to be with about 15,000 employees on board heading into fiscal year 2016.
Brooks also said EPA employees are aware of the constant political controversy surrounding much of the agency’s work, but said young professionals continue to be drawn to agency because of a passion for public service and a desire to make an impact on big issues like climate change. Here are a couple of excerpts from the interview:
What are the current staffing levels like at the agency, and are there particular divisions that are short-handed?
On board, at the start of the fiscal year we had 14,746 with approximately 175-200 [new employee] selections that have been made; we just don't have the so-called paperwork done and a start date set. So, we're essentially at 15,000 going into fiscal year 2016.
When we talk about the agency, it's an agency with many starts. We have the national program offices, which are headquartered here in D.C., and then there are 10 regions. Each of them in a little different place, but as a result of the hiring initiatives that we launched in the spring and finished up at the end of fiscal year 2015, each of those programs and regions is pretty much where they wanted to be and needed to be going into fiscal year 2016.
Obviously, the political climate for the agency has been challenging, especially on Capitol Hill. Does that filter down to employees, and what impact does that have on employee morale and recruitment?
It's noticed among the political ranks, people like me, we're very aware of that. But you know the motivation that we find among newer employees and among the potential recruits you see out there for public service, in some ways [the motivation] hasn't been this high in a couple of decades. Public service still has a really high sizzle factor among newer workers and our potential hires. I think, in part, because of the focus of climate change and the challenge this rising generation feels to be responsible for what the president called the challenge of our generation, that helps us at EPA.
I'm pretty sure that one of the reasons we were really successful with our hiring initiatives is there is a crop of newer workers who see EPA as one of the places to make a real difference in their career. And the political chatter on the outside—certainly the employees are aware of that—but one of the things that's true of EPA, and this has been true for 45 years, is it's a highly motivated, very dedicated group of workers. People tend to come here and stay here because of the mission.
The complete interview is available for subscribers here.
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