Bloomberg: EPA Union Asks Congress to Top Biden Budget on Staffing, Raises

Aug. 5, 2021
By: Stephen Lee
AFGE wants 20,000 EPA staffers
Union also asks for better pay

The EPA’s biggest union is asking Congress to deliver funding that would boost the agency’s workforce by nearly 40%, far outstripping the request in President Joe Biden’s budget blueprint.The American Federation of Government Employees wants the Environmental Protection Agency to grow to 20,000 staffers, which would be the highest level in the agency’s 51-year history. It currently employs some 14,300 workers.

Biden’s $11.2 billion budget request would raise agency staffing to 15,324. That is “simply not enough hands to successfully achieve the EPA mission,” AFGE Local 238 President Gary Morton wrote in a letter sent to members of Congress on Wednesday and reviewed by Bloomberg Law.

“We’re at a low level now, and the population has increased, and climate change is upturning a lot of things,” said Justin Chen, president of AFGE Local 1003 and an EPA environmental engineer. “We don’t have enough scientists, engineers, inspectors, enforcement officers, or rule writers to even effectively enforce our existing regulations.”

As of July, the EPA had hired 500 new employees since Biden took office, according to an agency spokesman.
Diverse Workforce
The AFGE also asked lawmakers to make sure the EPA does a better job of building a diverse workforce. Minority group representation at the EPA fell 9.2% from fiscal 2009 to 2020, the union said.

The union, which represents some 7,500 EPA employees, also wants more funding for “competitive salaries and opportunities for career growth comparable to the private sector.” A new GS-7 scientist or engineer who works in Washington makes 20% less than the lowest entry-level salary of an environmental engineer at a private firm, the AFGE said.

As experienced workers have retired, lower-grade employees have had to take on their work but often haven’t been promoted, according to the union.

Most EPA regional offices are based in cities with a high cost of living, such as New York City, San Francisco, and Boston, and locality pay adjustments “are not sufficient to make EPA jobs competitive with the private sector,” the letter said.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan and several of his top officials have publicly committed to building a diverse workforce and ensuring employees are given fair access to promotions.

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