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As Federal agencies prepare to nominate individuals and teams for the next round of Gears of Government Awards, join us in looking back at a 2019 winning team from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This team’s implementation of lean management principles not only improved permitting processes and reduced redundancies in Region 5, which covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, and 35 tribes, it served as a model for other offices across the agency to emulate. We’re proud to share their story and are excited to recognize more exemplary individuals and teams in the upcoming 2020 Gears of Government Awards cycle.
The Gears of Government Awards recognize individuals and teams across the Federal workforce whose dedication supports exceptional delivery of key outcomes for the American people, specifically mission results, customer service, and accountable stewardship. View the 2019 Hall of Winners, learn more about the Gears of Government Awards, and stay tuned for our announcement and features of 2020 winners in the spring.
The EPA Region 5 Air and Radiation Division Team was recognized with a 2019 Gears of Government Award for their metric-driven methods, signature visual management tool, and implementation of lean management practices that drove significant process improvement.
As a result of the process improvement, the team eliminated 13 steps in the issuance process for non-controversial permits. The issuance period for routine Clean Air Act Title V operating permits dropped from 389 days to 142 days, while Part 49 construction permit issuance fell dramatically from 403 days to 73 days.
Leaders at EPA credit lean management principles for the success at Region 5 along with other collaborative efforts to reduce redundancies and increase efficiencies across the agency. Lean management continues to produce tangible results, saving employees valuable time while also conserving government resources.
Tasked with updating the permit-writing protocols for air emission sources constructed or operating within tribal areas, the Region 5 team found the creative license associated with EPA’s lean process to be innovative.
Lean management facilitated opportunities for the team to critique persistent problems and provided a fresh lens to develop and adopt new solutions, so long as the permits issued remained in compliance with state, federal, and tribal laws.
The standardization of existing shortcuts in the permit writing process ensured new permit writers could take advantage of an important piece of institutional knowledge that was not readily shared previously. Also, the reassignment of decision-making authority from the division director to section and branch chiefs was a crucial improvement that greatly helped harmonize the Region 5 issuance process, according to the team.
Reflecting on the transformative nature of lean management, one team member remarked, “I was initially surprised by how many steps are included in the permit-writing process. Being able to identify certain steps as unnecessary or repetitive was nice but being able to do something about it was satisfying.”
As a testament to the power of lean management, the air permit improvements and outcomes associated with the Region 5 Air and Radiation Division were so remarkable that EPA benchmarked its process and is sharing it across the agency as a model for other offices to emulate. As a result, the agency has realized several process improvements following the initial lean deployment earlier this year. Many of EPA’s regional and program offices have experienced significant, positive changes to their standard workflows.
Photo of the Region 5 team. From left to right: Henry Darwin, Charmagne Ackerman, Michael Langman, Richard Angelbeck, Danny Marcus, and Region 5 Administrator, Cathy Stepp. Not pictured: Constantine Blathras.