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News Releases from Region 05

EPA Lean Management Techniques Deliver Results in the Great Lakes Region

Contact Information: 
Ben Weiss (

CHICAGO (November 10, 2020) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) in 83% of the agency across the United States. In Region 5, the new system has helped increase the number of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Corrective Action sites that are now ready for redevelopment and beneficial re-use as well as helped the Region’s lab improve the quality and timeliness of sample analysis and results reporting.

“Thanks to the adoption of lean practice in the region, we’re providing better service to communities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin,” said EPA Regional Administrator Kurt Thiede. “These efforts allow us to more effectively and efficiently tackle issues that impact environmental and human health.”

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 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.

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 Region 5 has accounted for 38 of those process improvements using this system.

For example, one of EPA’s top priorities is to make contaminated lands ready for re-use or redevelopment, often a critical step in community revitalization. To assure that redevelopment is a focus, EPA Region 5 used ELMS over a two-year period to better track progress. This focused approach and tracking helped Region 5 and its state partners ready 32 sites for re-use in the fiscal year 2020, the highest number ever achieved in the Region and one of the highest throughout EPA this fiscal year.

Region 5’s lab has also been able to use visual management tools to identify unnecessary or redundant steps in the sample analysis and reporting processes, allowing clients to receive data faster. With the implementation of ELMS process changes, the annual average number of data reports meeting client time requirements increased from 64% in fiscal year 2019 to 81% in fiscal year 2020. Improvements to the quality and timeliness of data reports help clients make decisions based on sound science and respond quickly to public health concerns.  

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 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.