Statement: AFGE 704: Proposed EPA budget cuts will mortally wound environment, local economies

CHICAGO (March 16, 2017)–Following is a statement from Michael Mikulka, President of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, the union representing employees of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 5, in response to the drastic proposed Trump administration cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget:

“These cuts amount to the White House sending a wrecking ball into the heart of the Environmental Protection Agency–and they’ll put American lives at risk.

“The cuts would cripple EPA employees’ ability to do our duty to protect the nation’s natural and economic health. Communities across the country could now be subject to long-banned practices such as the dumping of industrial and mining waste and untreated sewage into lakes, streams and rivers. Wildlife and fish populations will likely be reduced, and human health will be directly damaged as a result of dropping longstanding environmental safeguards. And make no mistake: if these cuts are implemented, the safety of the nation’s drinking water and the air we breathe will be at stake.

“The proposed federal budget would shift the responsibility for water, land and air quality to the states and localities; but that is nothing more than a pipedream. The White House must face the hard truth that states are already struggling and lack the capacity to manage these programs. Here in Illinois, we’ve been without a state budget whatsoever for two years.

“EPA Region 5 manages the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, for which funding has been zeroed out in this proposal. The Great Lakes are the biggest fresh-water supply on the planet and source the drinking water for most of the Midwest. For recreation, health and safety, the protection of the Great Lakes ought to be top priority. Instead, they are being slashed. Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin will be in grave danger as a result.

“We urge lawmakers in Washington to roundly reject these EPA cuts, and protect human health and the environment for all Americans.”

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Ethics Reminder and Hatch Act Refresher

ethicsMany EPA employees have inquired about the possible ethical implications of sharing your personal opinions on science, policy or politics, particularly in social media.  You as a United States citizen are free to express yourself about matters that are important to you, including ones that relate to EPA.  Your ability to express yourself includes doing so in the workplace and in personal social media. But, when you do express yourself in the workplace or EPA (which is your workplace), there are three things you should bear in mind:  the federal ethics rules continue to apply to you as they always have; the rules depend on whether you are speaking in your official EPA capacity or your individual personal capacity; and your expression of your views in the workplace needs to comply with agency orders prohibiting conduct that is “abusive or offensive,” or that constitutes harassment.

Understanding the Ethics Rules

 While you may express yourself, please remember that you can’t misuse your federal position when doing so.  We want to help ensure you understand every employee’s ethics obligations while being clear that we are not limiting or expanding your ability to act or communicate, nor taking any position in support of or against such actions or communications.  This message explains the ethics rules you should consider when you speak or write or otherwise express your opinions.

Let’s start with the basics.  The ethics rules have not changed because we have a new Administration.  We, as EPA employees, are still bound by the Hatch Act and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employee of the Executive Branch, and the conflict of interest statutes.  The ethics rules do not change depending on the type of forum.  The same rules about misuse of position, EPA’s limited personal use policy, fundraising and the Hatch Act apply to your use of social media, tweeting or blogging as they do to non-virtual, more traditional forms of communication.

Understanding the Capacity In Which You Are Acting

In terms of ethics rules, we view any activity in one of two ways:  either you are acting in your OFFICIAL EPA capacity, or you are acting in your INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL capacity.  There is no in-between, no “professional” capacity category.  It’s either official duty or individual personal capacity.

When speaking or writing, including blogging and in social media, you should be clear in what capacity you are communicating.  We liken it to staying in your designated lane when driving:  you can be in one lane of the highway or the other, and you can also switch lanes, but don’t straddle the dotted line or weave back and forth.  The safest drivers stay in the middle of their designated lane and signal appropriately when they are changing lanes.  It’s the same with ethics.  The ethical employee knows and makes clear to others when she is acting in her official capacity versus her personal capacity.

Typically, an activity is undertaken in OFFICIAL CAPACITY when it is consistent with statutory authority and Agency or office mission and assigned duties.  When working in your official capacity, you can use EPA time and resources, including EPA email address, EPA phone number, EPA equipment and property and, if applicable, subordinates.  To participate in INDIVIDUAL PERSONAL CAPACITY, we urge you not to use your EPA email address or contact information and, if possible, not refer to EPA position or title.  If you feel you must refer to your EPA position or title, then the prudential advice is to do so as one of several biographical details with EPA not having any undue prominence.  You should be clear you are expressing an individual personal opinion, not speaking on behalf of the Agency.  While the agency does have a limited personal use policy that allows some personal use of EPA equipment such as computers, if expressing a personal opinion publicly on a subject, it is safest to avoid the use of EPA equipment.

Understanding Some Limits on Conduct

Displaying offensive materials or engaging in conversations that constitute “abusive or offensive language, gestures, or other conduct” as listed in EPA Order 3120.1 is prohibited.  Harassment based on conduct that is threatening, intimidating, and/or bullying will not be tolerated, per EPA Order 4711.

For Those Who Want to Know More

To assist you in navigating the ethics and Hatch Act rules that apply to communications, whether in personal or official capacity, we created a couple of charts.  We hope they help guide you to stay in the correct ethics “lane.”  Treat your fellow employees with the dignity and respect we all deserve and to stay committed to and focused on our core mission, protecting human health and the environment.  As always, if you have an ethics question, please don’t hesitate to contact the OGC Ethics team, your regional ethics counsel or your Deputy Ethics Official.  To reach OGC Ethics, send an email to ethics@epa.gov. Printable handouts on Hatch Act and “staying in the right lane” are here:

Former Budget Chief, On Why It Can Be Tough to Work for Government

Former Budget Chief, On Why It Can Be Tough to Work for Government

Former Budget Director Peter Orszag
Former Budget Director Peter Orszag Lauren Victoria Burke/AP File Photo

Peter Orszag quit his government job. For three and a half years, he ran two federal budget agencies, and in 2010, he defected to Wall Street. Even though he thinks the government desperately needs more smart people, he has deep empathy for those who flee to the private sector.

“In a hyperpolarized environment in which we effectively have a bipolar Congress with no middle, there are just much smaller returns to being in government,” he said during an interview with The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons on Wednesday. Because of this, smart people working in business see less appeal in taking a pay cut and moving to Washington. “What would excite many of the people I know about being in government would be the opportunity to actually do things, rather than just lob grenades at each other,” he said. Continue reading “Former Budget Chief, On Why It Can Be Tough to Work for Government”

A Federal Holiday Poem

A Federal Holiday Poem

Ramona Kaulitzki/Shutterstock.com

Observing what has been a holiday tradition at GovExec.com since 1998, we present our annual ode to federal employees.

Twas the night before Christmas, and all ‘cross the Web
Not a surfer was surfing, except for some feds.

The FAA cleared Santa for his annual flight,
As the Weather Service predicted a clear, starry night.

FEMA stood by in case of snow, ice or sleet,
As troops ’round the world maintained the peace. Continue reading “A Federal Holiday Poem”

No Christmas Eve Off for Federal Employees

No Christmas Eve Off for Federal Employees

fotorutkowscy/Shutterstock.com

Federal employees will report for a full day of work Tuesday, with the Obama administration opting not to give any extra time off for Christmas Eve.

The decision does not come as a surprise. It is “consistent with historical precedent when Christmas has fallen on a Wednesday,” an official at the Office of Personnel Management told Government Executive. “The government has remained open on Christmas Eve for six of the last nine times since 1946 that Christmas Day has fallen on a Wednesday.”

One of the recent exceptions was 2002, when President George W. Bush gave feds a half day off on Tuesday, Dec. 24. Continue reading “No Christmas Eve Off for Federal Employees”