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

Key EPA Air Programs Increase Efficiency and Timeliness

11/16/2020
Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov)

WASHINGTON (November 16, 2020) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) to 83% of the agency. EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) has been a leader in ELMS implementation, supporting the agency’s efforts to protect public health and the environment from air pollution.

“EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation prides itself on the enormous progress the United States has made in reducing air pollution over the past 50 years,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation Anne L. Austin. “Employing these improvements and efficiencies across our programs helps us deliver meaningful results for America’s health and environment, while making the most of taxpayers’ money.”

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 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.

EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) has used ELMS to improve 37 processes to date.

ELMS has allowed teams across the agency to better measure their effectiveness in delivering the most crucial services. One of EPA’s top priorities is to protect our citizens and environment from air pollution.

For example, using the principles and methods of the management system, OAR met a significant number of tight deadlines to review existing Clean Air Act (CAA) regulations, sped up the development of key air quality monitoring baseline values relied upon for decision making, and simplified the process for power plants to submit required forms to the agency.

Last year, OAR used ELMS to streamline the work needed to complete a large number of rulemakings with aggressive court-ordered deadlines. These actions fulfill EPA’s CAA responsibilities to complete residual risk and technology reviews of emission standards for hazardous air pollutants. Within eight years of setting maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards, the CAA directs EPA to assess the remaining health risks from each source category to determine whether the MACT standards adequately protect public health and the environment. In addition, the CAA requires that EPA review and revise the standards, if necessary, to account for improvements in air pollution controls and/or prevention.

Over the last year, OAR used ELMS to plan, coordinate, and track the development of the rules, resulting in EPA ultimately promulgating 22 final rules covering 28 industry sectors. The ELMS process helped multiple offices to effectively staff the projects, allowed EPA to quickly identify and address issues and delays, and enabled the Agency to complete an unprecedented number of required reviews in a very short time. EPA projects these actions will reduce 2,200 tons per year of toxic air pollution and approximately 17,000 tons per year of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

One of the most critical pieces of information EPA’s air office develops is the annual air quality design values for each monitor across the United States.  These values are used for regulatory decisions regarding meeting or maintaining air quality standards to protect public health. Getting those annual values processed as quickly as possible allows for quicker regulatory decisions and more timely reporting to the public. Relying on ELMS principles, EPA successfully reduced the delivery time of these design values by 45% and had the final values posted within two months after the May 1 certification of the data.

EPA takes pride in working effectively with the regulated community. Under our programs to reduce acid rain and the transport of emissions across state lines, the EPA air office has worked with power plants to achieve dramatic reductions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and toxic emissions – and now have also improved the efficiency of submitting forms required by those programs.

After one year of using ELMS, the Office of Atmospheric Programs improved the efficiency and effectiveness of the forms submission process to minimize the regulated community’s wait time in conjunction with processing a variety of forms under programs such as the Acid Rain Program and the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Previously, there was considerable lag-time due to paper form mailing time and user errors. By incorporating feedback from stakeholders to perfect online form processing, EPA saved resources and reduced user wait time by 84%. At the same time, Agency recordkeeping has been simplified and staff has more time to address other stakeholder needs.

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 most notable process improvements that have been made 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, please visit: https://www.epa.gov/50, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.