EPA Enhances PFAS Research Projects through Lean Management
WASHINGTON (November 17, 2020) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS), a systematic approach to continuous process improvement, to 83% of the agency.
EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) has accounted for 28 process improvements using this system, including PFAS research and COVID-19 response.
“Addressing PFAS is one of EPA’s top priorities, and EPA’s collaborative research projects with EPA Regions, state and tribal partners are helping to improve our understanding of PFAS in the environment,” said Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, EPA Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science for the Office of Research and Development. “Using ELMS has enabled our staff to identify the time necessary for laboratory steps needed and to assess the budget and personnel required to successfully support each request.”
ELMS is based on lean principles used for years by the private sector and is composed of six components: visual management, standard process, cascading performance measures, problem solving, business reviews & huddles, and leader behaviors. EPA implementation of each of these elements has allowed EPA to make significant improvements to the speed and quality at which it delivers its services to the American people.
EPA Office of Continuous Improvement – the team responsible for implementing ELMS – set a goal to deploy this system to 80% of agency personnel and use it to improve 250 processes by fiscal year 2020. Both goals were successfully met with the agency reporting over 500 processes improved and 83% of personnel using ELMS.
ORD has used ELMS to address organization and timely delivery of laboratory results from multiple ongoing analytical chemistry projects involving analysis of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in environmental samples collected by EPA’s regions, state and tribal partners. As PFAS-related requests for analysis from our state partners have continued to increase, EPA researchers have used ELMS to make improvements in processing samples and generating and clearing data reports delivered to project partners. Overall, the time from receipt of samples at ORD laboratories to delivery of data reports has decreased from almost 900 days to approximately 200 days.
Additionally, when COVID-19 forced many EPA employees into full-time remote work, ORD turned to ELMS problem-solving tools to transform their Community Engagement & STEM Education Program to work for virtual classrooms. In three and a half months, they reached more than 1,300 students and educators via 17 virtual presentations, six career panels, 30 one-on-one career conversations, and a half-day teacher workshop. Strong relationships with community partners and local educators made this transition relatively easy. The virtual programming has been so successful that several community partners have reached out for guidance on planning and implementing their virtual STEM outreach.
“Sharing EPA science with students, teachers, and communities is an important part of EPA’s work,” said Orme-Zavaleta. “ELMS allowed our team members to solve a problem quickly and effectively while continuing to deliver results to the public.”
As part of the new system, the executives in EPA’s 23 national programs and regional offices monitor over 800 measures each month. If a measure’s target is not met, problem solving is performed and a plan is created for getting back on track. In addition, over 10,000 of EPA’s staff on the front line now huddle in small groups for 15 minutes each week to review electronic boards used to track the flow of their team’s work and the metrics used to measure process performance.
“I’m extremely proud of this agency’s embrace of lean principles and commitment to continuous improvement,” said Henry Darwin, EPA’s chief operating officer and visionary behind ELMS. “Setting numeric goals, tracking workflow and performance, and solving problems using data and evidence is how I believe this agency can better protect human health and the environment. ELMS has given EPA employees a new way to accomplish our mission and the results speak for themselves.”
Some of the other most notable process improvements that have been made across EPA since the system was implemented included reducing the agency’s backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests by almost 45%, increasing the number of inspections reports that are completed on-time and communicated to the regulated entity from around 49% to 82%, and a reduction in the number of backlogged new permit applications by almost 150.
ELMS has allowed teams across the agency to better measure their effectiveness in delivering the most crucial services.
For more information of EPA’s continuous improvement efforts, please visit https://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/about-office-continuous-improvement-oci.
For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit: https://www.epa.gov/50, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.
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