Nearing Full Implementation, EPA’s Lean Management System Delivers Results
NEW YORK (November 12, 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 United States. The program has enjoyed success in EPA’s Region 2 office, covering New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight federally recognized Indian Nations.
“Region 2 has embraced the ELMS program as a way to improve our processes to help critical work move forward more quickly while improving the quality of that work,” said EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez. “Efficient processes yield results for the American people and enhance our ability to protect people’s health and the environment.”
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.
In EPA’s Region 2, employees and managers are using ELMS to track and improve 76 processes. These processes, in different stages of implementation, focus on a range of issues, including hiring staff, responding to public inquiries, laboratory work, superfund cleanups, enhancements to enforcement, state clean air plan approvals, grants, and internal services for employees.
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.
Delivery of chemical data in a timely manner is a crucial part of the decision-making process during remediation of a Superfund site. Through the ELMS process and use of visual management problem solving tools, R2’s Laboratory Services and Applied Science Division has successfully streamlined the reporting of chemical results for Superfund sampling projects. Thanks to the ELMS process, Region 2 has achieved a 33% improvement in the time to produce the sampling report. Additionally, the average number of days to produce the sampling reports was cut in half. This ELMS process helps move Superfund projects to completion faster to meet the Superfund Redevelopment Initiative for beneficial reuse.
A critical part of the Superfund enforcement process is identifying potentially responsible parties who can perform or fund response actions at each site. One of the most important tools EPA has for doing so is issuing an information request letter authority under Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act. The process for preparing and issuing these letters needed to be made more efficient. In the past year, the process took Region 2 about 244 days on average. Such a delay slows the gathering of key evidence, which, in turn can delay site cleanups. Region 2’s goal was to reduce the average length of time by at least 25% (to 183 days) by September 30, 2020. Using ELMS, the average length of the process is now 92 days – an improvement of 62%.
EPA Region 2 also used ELMS in a cross-divisional effort to reduce the backlog in National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in Puerto Rico. The program ensures that discharges of treated industrial and municipal wastewater do not impair water quality. The NPDES program in Puerto Rico is jointly managed by EPA Region 2’s Caribbean Environmental Protection Division, Enforcement Division and Water Division. If permits that are not renewed within the five-year time frame, they either expire or become administratively continued and are considered backlogged. To address the backlog, the three EPA Region 2 divisions developed a system of remote huddles to allow staff in New York and San Juan to meet and track permit issuance. The team also implemented new information sharing practices with the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (PRDNER), including re-instituting quarterly check-ins and developed an expansive SharePoint site that allows EPA and PRDNER to update permit information in real time. From October 2018 to September 2020, the team reduced the permit backlog by 88%.
Reviewing work at Superfund sites every five years is key to ensuring that the cleanup work remains protective of the communities located near the site. Under Superfund, EPA conducts about 35-45 of these Five-Year Reviews (FYRs) each year. Due to workload and inefficiencies, half of this work was conducted in the last quarter of our fiscal year. Starting in 2018, Region 2’s Superfund and Emergency Management Division (SEMD) began implementing an ELMS process to improve the timeliness of the FYRs. In FY 2020, that process was further revised to include additional incremental deadlines that help to keep the FYRs on track. As a result, SEMD completed 68% of the FYRs by the end of the third quarter in 2020, which was a 66 % improvement over 2019. By moving these reviews earlier in the year, staff and managers have more time to focus on drafting these documents and resolving any issues that may affect the protectiveness of the cleanup work.
“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.
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.