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EPA Completes Record Number of Superfund Cleanups through Lean Management

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EPA Press Office (

WASHINGTON (November 17, 2020) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS), a systematic approach to continuous process improvement, to 83% of the agency.

EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) has accounted for 15 process improvements—most notably in its management of the Superfund program.

“Completion of Superfund site cleanups is key focus for the Trump Administration and prioritizing completion of Superfund deletions demonstrates that commitment and OLEM is particularly proud of the significant efficiencies we have realized in this area through the thoughtful application of ELMS tools,” said Assistant Administrator Peter Wright

ELMS 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.

OLEM used ELMS tools to evaluate the process of deleting sites from the Superfund program’s National Priorities List, upon completion of the Agency’s remedial cleanup work. The team successfully reduced the administrative burden of rulemaking by consolidating the content of 17 deletion actions into a single federal register notice, rather than processing each action individually. This consolidation reduced workloads, eliminated redundant reviews and lowered program costs.

In fiscal year 2020, the program saw a 30% reduction in administrative transactions, while maintaining the same level of deletion accomplishments as the prior year, notably the most deletions in any year since 2001. The program has now fully transitioned to consolidated rulemaking. An additional 80% reduction in administrative transactions is projected for fiscal year 2021 and beyond.

Additionally, over the last two years, EPA’s Office of Underground Storage Tanks (OUST) undertook two ELMS projects, both focused on speeding up the time EPA takes to start leaking underground storage tank (LUST) cleanups in Indian country. In fiscal year 2019, OUST reduced the time for deciding which projects to fund from 221 days to 158 days. In fiscal year 2020, OUST reduced the time to review and approve contractor workplan proposals, approving them between 57 and 73 percent faster. Both of these efforts help start LUST cleanups faster and improve environmental protection in Indian country.

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%, 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

For more on EPA’s 50th Anniversary and how the agency is protecting America’s waters, land and air, visit:, or follow the agency on social media using #EPAat50.

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