The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to keep all 10 of its regional offices open, as it looks to realign along similar lines to its headquarters in Washington, DC.
In a memo to EPA employees sent Thursday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the realignment, which ultimately must be approved by Congress, is intended to increase coordination between the national and regional programs, as well as provide consistent implementation of EPA regulations and policies.
"We plan to maintain our 10 regional offices for implementation of the agency's programs," Wheeler wrote. "The contributions of EPA's regional office employees, who constitute nearly half of the agency's workforce, are vital to the protection of human health and the environment."
Wheeler took the reins at EPA after Scott Pruitt resigned as administrator in July, following numerous allegations of abuses of power. Wheeler held a conciliatory meeting with the agency's employees days later.
According to the acting administrator, the regional offices currently differ in structure. Under the proposed realignment, each would have regional and deputy administrators. The offices would also have divisions covering air and radiation; administration and resource management; enforcement and compliance assurance; land and resource development; Superfund and emergency management; water; laboratory services and applied science; and regional counsel.
The administration and resource management division would handle the functions of EPA's offices of Administration and Resources Management (OARM), Chief Financial Officer and Environmental Information. Meanwhile, the land and resource development division would include the duties of EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and its Brownfields program, while the regional counsel would handle Freedom of Information Act requests.
Wheeler said the next step in the realignment process would be for the OARM to convene and lead a working group, to include representatives from each region, "to prepare a realignment package that will be submitted to the Senate and House Committees on Appropriations for review."
The realignment stems from a reform plan released by EPA in February, in response to an executive order issued by President Trump in March 2017. "When the regional offices are organizationally aligned with headquarters, we will be better able to streamline decision-making for accountability and performance, allowing us to better carry out our mission," Wheeler wrote.