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Nearing Full Implementation, EPA’s Lean Management System Delivers Results

11/10/2020
Contact Information: 
Region 4 Press (region4press@epa.gov)

ATLANTA (November 10, 2020) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) to 83% of the agency across the U.S.

“Solving problems efficiently is an essential part of the work EPA carries out daily,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker. “Utilizing ELMS shortened the State Implementation Plans review timetable thereby enabling state and local agencies to implement emission control strategies sooner.”

ELMS is an agency-wide systematic approach to continuous process improvement. It is based on lean principles used for years by the private sector and is comprised 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.

Region 4 has accounted for 31 of those process improvements using this system.

EPA Region 4 Air and Radiation Division (ARD) continues to utilize the ELMS to process State Implementation Plans (SIPs) to comply with Clean Air Act requirements. In implementing ELMS, Region 4 has made the process more efficient by bundling similar SIPs into a single action to reduce the amount of administrative processing time, expeditiously processing SIPs that are a priority for state and local programs, reducing backlogs and meeting on a weekly basis to ensure all targets are being achieved. ELMS principles allowed Region 4 ARD to act on 76 SIPs in the last fiscal year.

By implementing these ELMS tools, the ARD team reduced the backlog of SIPs that were not able to be finalized during the standardized timeframe by 68%.

Additionally, EPA Region 4’s Land, Chemicals, and Redevelopment Division had 20 Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB) contaminated sites regulated under the Toxics Substances Control Act that require documents to be approved by EPA. At the end of 2019, 18 of the 20 sites had approvals older than six months, which is considered a PCB approvals backlog. This backlog represents an inefficiency of the PCB program to complete approvals that may affect the completion of cleanups and renewal of permits. The team used various ELMS problem-solving tools to increase efficiency in managing PCB approvals and reduce the backlog. The goal was to go from 18 backlog approvals to 13 by the end of fiscal year 2020. Using ELMS, the team actually reduced this backlog to 6.

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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