On Monday, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced the creation of a new “Office of Continuous Improvement,” meant to boost productivity inside the agency and cut operational waste.
The office will expand the agency’s “lean management system,” which encourages employees to focus staff time on “mission-critical work.” According to Politico, the initiative was first created in 2014 under the Obama administration.
.@EPA is announcing a new office this afternoon — the Office of Continuous Improvement — tasked with making the agency more "lean," per an email sent to staff and obtained by @BuzzFeedNews pic.twitter.com/H07lVjbctw
— Zahra Hirji (@Zhirji28) May 14, 2018
According to an internal email obtained by Buzzfeed, the new office will focus on implementing lean management initiatives across 80 percent of the agency by 2020.
The EPA’s webpage describing the change notes that lean management initiatives will help improve “the quality, transparency, and speed” of EPA services, resulting in “superior customer service” for stakeholders.
Environmental groups criticized the announcement, arguing that it shifts focus away from the EPA’s core mission of environmental protection.
“Scott Pruitt is advocating for a government that abandons its responsibilities to protect our clean air and water all while using taxpayer money to pay for lavish perks for himself,” Melinda Pierce, federal policy director for the Sierra Club, said in a press statement. “It’s clear that the only ‘customers’ Scott Pruitt intends to help are the corporate polluters directing his every move.”
The announcement comes at a tenuous time for both the agency and Pruitt. For weeks, Pruitt has faced calls to resign after a cascade of ethical scandals became public, from the fact that he stayed in a condo owned by an energy lobbyist’s wife during his first few months in D.C. to the fact that he approved significant raises for political staff without White House approval.
Pruitt did not mention those raises when announcing the plan to make the agency more “lean.” Pruitt also did not address reports that he spent more than $100,000 on first class travel during his first year as administrator, nor a finding by the Government Accountability Office that the EPA broke the law when it approved the installation of Pruitt’s soundproof phone booth last year, which cost over $40,000 in taxpayer funds.
He also did not discuss his own personal, round-the-clock security detail, which he reportedly requested on his first day as administrator and which has cost nearly $3 million in taxpayer dollars.
Nor did Pruitt make any mention of the fact that, under his leadership, more than 700 employees have left the agency, bringing staffing levels to their lowest since the Reagan administration. Pruitt also did not address the fact that for the past two years, the Trump administration’s budget has called for significant cuts to the agency.
There was also no mention of that fact that, under Pruitt’s first year as administrator, EPA enforcement action against polluters has dropped 44 percent compared to previous administrators’ first years, nor was their any discussion of how “lean” management initiatives would be used to better enforce environmental regulations around the country.
In fact, only those present in the room at EPA headquarters on Monday afternoon were able to hear the full discussion of exactly what the Office of Continuous Improvement would bring to the agency, since the audio on the agency’s livestream of the announcement malfunctioned for the majority of the press conference.