Washington, DC — The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is rapidly downsizing its environmental capabilities by forcing scores of Denver-based specialists to go into retirement under threat of layoff, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This massive lame duck restructuring will force the next administration to contract for the eliminated functions.
Reclamation manages millions of acre feet of water, primarily with dams and reservoirs, in 17 Western states. Job reductions are concentrated in its Technical Services Center (TSC) in Denver where nearly one-third of the 500 jobs are now or will soon be eliminated. Among the services being cut are –
- Drinking Water Protection. The Expeditionary Unit Water Purification program creates potable water following disasters, such as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, but has lost key staff;
- Scientists, Laboratories and Library. The Center’s world renowned library and laboratories are being drained of all employees. In addition, the ax is falling heavily on science positions, such as hydrologists, soil scientists and seismologists; and
- Environmental Studies. Reclamation is rapidly discarding both its capacity to assess environmental effects of its water projects and its ability to analyze impacts on recreation, historical and cultural resources, as well as the social and economic consequences of its actions.
“Reclamation is taking a wrecking ball to its own workforce,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is distributing employee petitions to Congress asking for intervention to stop the removals. “At this rate, Reclamation will not have enough expertise left to tie its own shoes.”
In a chart since removed from the Reclamation website, a “Vision TSC Staff Attrition” shows plans to cut the Center workforce nearly in half by year’s end. Earlier this year, Reclamation managers targeted selected TSC employees for early retirement; an estimated 100 staff took the buyouts. Currently, another 65 employees are being targeted for new “offers” of outplacements coupled with threats of removal.
As a rationale for its personnel moves, Reclamation points to its “management for excellence (M4E)” initiative, which appears to be a thinly disguised effort to force reliance on private consultants. This expensive initiative also appears to violate congressional bans on using funds to promote outsourcing. No explanation has been given to staff why certain people are selected and others spared or what state of “excellence” will be achieved by the ME4 exercise.
“This initiative will tie the hands of the next administration and should be halted immediately,” Ruch added, noting that the managers pushing the plan will soon be gone. “Reclamation already has a hyper-active revolving door for its managers, including a special side door for coming back as consultants.”
Adding insult to injury, this past Friday August 15, Reclamation Commissioner Robert Johnson came to Denver to celebrate “Employee Appreciation Day,” but the only relief afforded the TSC staff was a guest speaker, the “Healthy Humorist” (Dr. Brad Nieder) to deliver his message that “Laughter is the Best Medicine.”