Nearing Full Implementation, EPA’s Lean Management System Delivers Results
(Seattle) 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.
ELMS is an agency-wide, systematic approach to continuous process improvement and is based on the same lean principles used for years by the private sector. ELMS 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.
According to EPA Regional Administrator, Chris Hladick, ELMS has helped staff identify sticking points and improve fundamental processes, which will result in greater protections for air, land and water in the Pacific Northwest.
“ELMS allowed us to step back and ask some fundamental questions,” said EPA’s Hladick. “We took a close look at our work processes and asked, ‘Is this the best, most efficient way to protect people and the environment?’ The ELMS tools helped us become even more efficient and effective and we’re already seeing the results.”
EPA’s Office of Continuous Improvement – the team responsible for implementing ELMS – set a goal to deploy this system to 80 percent 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 percent of personnel using ELMS.
Region 10 has accounted for 13 of those process improvements. Here are a few examples:
ELMS has allowed teams across the agency to better measure their effectiveness in delivering the most crucial services. One of Region 10’s top priorities is to ensure clean water, and in partnership with states and tribes, sustainably manage programs to support drinking water, aquatic ecosystems, and recreational, economic, and subsistence activities.
EPA Region 10 used ELMS to reduce the backlog in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, a program that ensures that discharges of treated industrial and municipal wastewater do not impair surface water quality. If permits are not renewed within the five-year timeframe they become administratively continued and are considered backlogged; new permit applications are considered backlogged if the permit is not issued within six months. To address the backlog, the team used visual management and problem-solving techniques to reduce the backlogged permits by 23 percent.
Region 10 also reduced its backlog of Clean Air Act determinations. After 2019, the Region had 74 requests backlogged for applicability determinations for National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants and New Source Performance Standards. Using ELMS tools, the team eliminated the backlog completely, providing regulatory certainty and helping facilities plan future investments.
Last year, all application packages for Region 10’s Tribal Clean Air Act Grants required rework and averaged five total revisions per grant, resulting in extra work for all involved, including EPA’s tribal partners. In fiscal year 2020, the EPA Tribal Air Team achieved a 35 percent reduction in grant revisions and an approximately 65 percent reduction in review time. This frees up valuable staff time to provide critical technical assistance and ensures timely grant delivery.
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 percent, increasing the number of inspections reports that are completed on-time and communicated to the regulated entity from around 49 percent to 82 percent, and reducing the number of backlogged new permit applications by almost 150.
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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