Pruitt Adds New EPA Office to Further Efficiency Effort

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By Abby Smith

EPA head Scott Pruitt’s efficiency push throughout the agency will get its own office, the administrator announced May 14.

“That which is measured improves,” Pruitt said, announcing the formation of the Office of Continuous Improvement during an event at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters. Pruitt’s approach aims to eliminate waste of time and resources.

Henry Darwin, the EPA’s chief of operations and assistant deputy administrator, has been leading the push. The new office will report to him and will be housed under the EPA’s policy shop.

Darwin told reporters the EPA already has begun implementing the “lean management” approach, which strives to eliminate waste of time and resources to maximize the value organizations get out of their operations, across program and regional offices. For example, he said, the agency is using the process to speed the permitting process for its air pollution and stormwater programs, underground oil and gas wells, and new chemicals.

Pruitt’s critics, however, have opposed his use of the approach, arguing the administrator and his team will use it to undercut the agency rather than make its operations more efficient.

Staffing From Within

The Office of Continuous Improvement has about five full-time employees with a budget of less than $1 million dollars, Darwin said. The goal is to bump the office up to between 10 and 15 staffers, and Darwin said he wants career EPA employees to fill those positions.

The office will aim to implement lean management in 80 percent of the EPA by Sept. 30, 2020, according to the agency.

Serena McIlwain, a performance improvement officer who has worked at the EPA since 2014, will lead the office.

McIlwain previously served as the assistant regional administrator for region 9, which serves California, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawaii. Before that, she worked at the Department of Energy from 2009 to 2014, the latter two years as the chief operating officer of the fossil energy office.

She told reporters she has been working with Darwin for seven months to set the office up.

So far, that work has mostly been outlining specific goals for each part of the agency consistent with priorities laid out by Pruitt in the EPA’s strategic plan for fiscal years 2018-2022, McIlwain said.

“This is a process that we do together. It’s not just Henry. It’s not just Serena,” she added. “It’s the whole agency coming together and brainstorming.”

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