The Environmental Protection Agency wants to reopen offices in at least five of the 10 regions, but its dishonesty, lack of transparency, and at times outright lies about the reopening process have created confusion and fear among workers compelled to return to their offices amid the outbreak of the deadly virus.
The EPA is moving forward with its plan to reopen offices in regions 3, 4, 6, 7, and 10, but unlike some other federal agencies, it has not shared with employees and their union detailed plans and analysis to support its decision to reopen the offices.
Senior managers had earlier told employees’ union representatives they would be included in agency plans to reopen EPA offices both at the regional and national levels, but they failed to do so. The agency provided no documented justification for the decision either. Preparations to reopen these offices are already underway, and the employees were not informed until the day the process began.
“It’s a total mystery. It’s upsetting,” said AFGE Deputy General Counsel Cathie McQuiston. “They are not meeting the legal obligation with the union.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, EPA employees have adapted themselves exceptionally well, working remotely to keep the important work of the agency going.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler himself praised EPA workers for their seamless transition to telework and productiveness during this time. The data shows this increase in EPA productivity.
EPA Council 238 President Gary Morton said it is particularly telling that the agency refuses to share data and plans with a workforce heavy in scientific expertise. He took issue with Wheeler’s lack of transparency and justification to reopen the offices without input from the workforce.
“We are committed to the success of EPA, and many of us have spent the better part of our lifetimes to make it so,” Morton said. “You say the health and safety of EPA employees and their dependents is your highest priority. We beg you to keep your word.”