The Environmental Protection Agency will soon employ the lowest number of workers since the Ronald Reagan administration.
Hundreds of employees have accepted buyouts and taken early retirement since President Donald Trump's inauguration, according to an EPA official.
Congress put a cap on the number of people the EPA can employ at 15,000 in the 2017 omnibus bill. By the end of September, the EPA will employ 14,459 people, with dozens still considering buyout offers.
Last month, 374 employees took buyouts. An additional 33 employees are retiring at the end of September, and 45 others are considering early retirement offers.
If half of those individuals also choose to leave the agency, EPA employment levels would fall below 14,440. The last time EPA was at an actual employment level of 14,440 was in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president. The number of employees at EPA fell even lower in 1989, before peaking at 18,110 in 1999.
Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, said the agency is dedicated to shrinking the size of government. The Trump administration's goal is to cut the EPA workforce by 25 percent.
"We're giving long-serving, hard-working employees the opportunity to retire early," Pruitt said. "We're proud to report that we're reducing the size of government, protecting taxpayer dollars, and staying true to our core mission of protecting the environment and American jobs."
The agency could shrink even more, as 20.17 percent of the EPA's employees are eligible to retire right now, according to the EPA's Resources Management Office.
Another 25 percent can retire in the next five years with full benefits, according to the EPA official.
The EPA has two buyout programs, VSIP and VERA, which give employees cash payments to incentivize early retirement. Maximum payments are typically $25,000 for employees who are over 50 and have worked at the agency for at least 20 years. The average EPA employee makes $113,820.
Several employees who have claimed they are retiring in protest of the new Republican administration, have been eligible for early retirement.
In one case, Elizabeth Southerland, the former director of the Office of Science and Technology in EPA's Office of Water, said she was quitting on principle over President Trump's budget request to reduce the agency's spending to $5.7 billion.
Southerland, who earned a $250,000 salary with a $64,000 bonus, was eligible for early retirement, and made her protest two months after the budget was released.