House GOP Rejects Massive EPA, Interior Cuts While Approving Buyouts at Both Agencies

Protesters at the People’s Climate March on April 29 in Washington. Protesters at the People’s Climate March on April 29 in Washington. Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com

House Republicans do not plan to go along with President Trump’s proposal to gut the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, putting forward a spending bill with far less severe budget cuts that still supports efforts to reduce the agencies’ workforces.

The House Appropriations Committee would still cut EPA’s funding by $528 million in a fiscal 2018 spending measure a subcommittee approved this week, a 6.5 percent reduction. While the proposal still drew the ire of the panel’s Democrats, it pales in comparison to the $2.5 billion, 31 percent cut Trump put forward in his blueprint. While the smaller reduction is not likely to require the agency to shed 3,200 employees, as Trump called for, the report on the appropriations bill will include language authorizing EPA to use voluntary separation incentives to cut its rolls. Specifics of the buyout and early retirement programs must receive final approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

The report will also include similar language for Interior, according to committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing. The panel proposed cutting the department’s budget far less than the $1.5 billion, 12 percent cut Trump had requested. For example, the National Park Service would see a $64 million reduction rather than Trump’s proposed $183 million cut; the Bureau of Land Management a $46 million cut instead of $223 million; the U.S. Geological Survey would face a $46 million decrease compared to $128 million; and the Bureau of Indian Affairs a $10 million increase rather than a $304 million cut.

Overall, the Fiscal 2018 Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act would reduce funding by $824 million compared to fiscal 2017, a reduction $4.3 billion less than Trump’s budget envisioned.

“The agencies funded in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill do important work protecting public lands, the air we breathe and the water we drink,” said Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., who heads up the panel with jurisdiction over the measure. “Our subcommittee prioritized proven programs that have a meaningful impact to achieve these goals while also ensuring our economy can continue to grow.”

Both Interior and EPA have announced plans to move forward with voluntary separation incentives, as well as other attrition measures, to trim their rolls. In testimony delivered to Senate appropriators last month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he would rely on voluntary measures to reach the targeted 4,100 job cuts suggested in Trump’s budget, though he left the door open to involuntary layoffs.

EPA, meanwhile, has already sent requests for buyouts and early outs to OPM and the Office of Management and Budget for approval this fiscal year. The agency said it would accept a maximum of 1,228 applications across the agency. It has already set aside $12 million for the offers that employees must accept prior to October.

Agencies can offer up to $25,000 to employees who have worked in the federal government at least three years through a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment and allow employees not otherwise eligible for retirement benefits to receive them through Voluntary Early Retirement Authority. The White House has asked Congress to increase that amount to $40,000. OPM has established a team to process requests for incentive payments within 30 days.

The full House Appropriations Committee plans to vote on the spending bill, and release its report including the separation incentive language, next week. 

Image via Rena Schild/Shutterstock.com.

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