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News Releases from Region 09

EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region Delivers Results by Reducing Permit Backlog, Identifying Formerly Contaminated Properties for Reuse

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Sonam Gill (

SAN FRANCISCO – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this week that it has implemented the EPA Lean Management System (ELMS) to 83% of the agency across the U.S.

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.

Region 9 has improved approximately 35 processes using this system.

“More efficiently achieving water quality standards and communicating hazardous waste cleanup accomplishments have directly benefited communities in the Pacific Southwest”, said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “ELMS-based process improvements have strengthened the ability of EPA in the Pacific Southwest Region to protect human health and the environment.” 

In the Pacific Southwest region, EPA used ELMS to reduce the backlog of Clean Water Act permits, by streamlining the renewal process and terminating permits for facilities that no longer discharge water. By increasing efficiency and reducing administrative burden the regional office was able to strengthen permit requirements to more effectively achieve water quality protections. Over the last fiscal year, using ELMS-based process improvements, 20 permit renewal applications were processed, reducing the backlog of permits by more than 25%.

The Pacific Southwest region also used ELMS to improve the process of identifying formerly contaminated properties that are “Ready for Anticipated Use” under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. While hazardous waste has been cleaned up at many properties in the Pacific Southwest, prior to this past fiscal year the public-facing determinations had not been made available to communities. Such determinations allow communities to better plan for beneficial use. Over the past fiscal year, EPA used ELMS-based process improvements with partner states to identify and show the public that nearly 40 properties across the region were ready for anticipated use, which more than doubled the properties identified the year before.

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 the 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 on EPA’s RCRA program, please visit:

For more information on EPA’s NPDES Permitting program, please visit:

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