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Nearing Full Implementation, EPA’s Lean Management System Delivers Results

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EPA Press Office (

WASHINGTON (November 10, 2020) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today 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.

“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.” 

EPA’s 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.

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.

Some of the 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.

“Front line staff in EPA’s regional offices and national programs all contribute to the achievement of EPA’s strategic goals,” Darwin added. “That is why, in introducing ELMS, we allowed staff to apply the principles to the work that best suited their needs. This approach resulted in process improvements that varied in their scope, duration and proximity to our mission – all while moving us closer to becoming a continuously improving organization.”

ELMS has allowed teams across the agency to better measure their effectiveness in delivering the most crucial services. One of EPA’s top priorities is to ensure waters are clean through improved water infrastructure and, in partnership with states and tribes, sustainably manage programs to support drinking water, aquatic ecosystems, and recreational, economic, and subsistence activities.

For example, EPA’s Office of Water used ELMS to address backlogs of EPA actions taken on state-submitted lists of waters not meeting water quality standards and associated state-submitted pollution reduction targets for those waters. EPA is expected to review these actions within 30 days. For state lists of impaired waters submitted to EPA under the Clean Water Act, Section 303(d), EPA went from a backlog of 25 in fiscal year 2018 to 1 at the end of fiscal year 2020 – a 96% improvement. Once a waterbody is listed as impaired, states calculate the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that the waterbody will meet water quality standards for that particular pollutant. This calculation is known as a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). For those TMDLs submitted for waters deemed a priority by states, EPA’s backlog went from 112 in to 1 in that same two-year period – a 99% improvement.

Another key to this system’s success is the mechanism by which the agency involves its senior leaders in continuous improvement efforts. Each member of the Senior Executive Service (SES) at EPA is required to serve as the executive sponsor on a problem-solving project directly related to improving a process that has a clear impact on mission responsibilities or mission support objectives (for those in mission support roles). The project is recorded in that leader’s performance appraisal and the progress is evaluated each year to help ensure accountability.

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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