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Climate-Based Trainings and Performance Plans Are Coming for Federal Employees

The Biden administration wants a workforce capable of helping it meet its sustainability goals.

Federal agencies must prepare to educate their employees on clean energy and sustainability as they seek to reach ambitious goals toward reducing emissions, the Biden administration said in new guidance that promised to hold leaders and workers accountable for reaching new targets. 

The White House’s Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Personnel Management will consider and distribute metrics for measuring the federal workforce’s proficiency in climate and sustainability issues some time in fiscal 2023, CEQ said in instructions for implementing an executive order President Biden issued late last year. The order set specific deadlines for agencies to meet: by 2030 their net annual electricity use must be free of carbon pollution; by 2035 they must stop purchasing emission vehicles; and by 2045 they must establish net-zero emission buildings. In its new guidance, the administration made clear it expects agencies to ensure it has a sufficient knowledge base within its workforce to meet those goals. 

Agencies will have to create education programs for their employees on environmental issues, including environmental justice, such as by incorporating them into trainings. They will develop strategies for ensuring workers better understand and connect to sustainability priorities through seminars, working groups, involving employees in the development of climate-related goals and recognition programs. For relevant positions, the White House agencies must incorporate climate goals into employees’ performance plans. 

President Biden speaks during a virtual Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) on June 17, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Biden hosted the forum to discuss energy security, global food security and climate crisis. PHOTO BY ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

OPM will soon issue a report titled “Climate Adaptation, Sustainability and the Federal Workforce: Analysis of Agency Engagement, Training and Leader Capabilities,” which will further guide agencies in setting up those programs and initiatives. It will also assist leadership in ensuring human capital planning for each office incorporates climate and sustainability plans. The White House earlier this year launched a speaker series for federal employees to support the president’s Federal Sustainability Plan, which has included tips for incorporating sustainable practices into their personal and work lives

By fiscal 2022, which concludes at the end of this month, agencies must create systems to track their actions aimed at improving and growing the climate and sustainability workforce. Those metrics will include the number of new trainings and other engagements, who participates in them and how many employees have performance plans that include climate priorities. 

CEQ’s instructions also directed agencies to create annual goals, submitted to the Office of Management and Budget, to reach targets on carbon-free electricity, zero-emission vehicles and net-zero emission buildings. The White House spelled out which emissions to count and how to count them, including how and when to account for energy agencies produce through renewable sources. Agencies will also have to set goals and track related to the climate impact of their procurement and waste management. Many of the precise details for the metrics will be ironed out among CEQ, OMB, the General Services Administration and individual agencies in the coming months. 

Some employees could receive new perks under the order. Those with take-home cars, for example, could have a vehicle charger built at their house on the government’s dime. 

Agencies will have to track their buildings' use of energy, water and other specific categories. They will set specific goals for existing buildings, new construction and leased spaces. As they seek to implement Biden’s order, they will have some financial assistance: the Inflation Reduction Act included $3.3 billion for GSA to procure low-carbon materials and convert old buildings into “green” facilities. It also included $3 billion for the U.S. Postal Service to purchase electric vehicles and charging stations. 

The White House encouraged agencies not to waste time in carrying out their new directives. 

“Achieving these ambitious commitments requires action by each and every agency, starting today,” CEQ said in its instructions, adding they set “the foundation for a decade of action to cut [greenhouse gas] emissions from federal operations and drive greater sustainability government-wide.”