The Post's assessment {"Environmental Mismatches," editorial, Dec. 30} of the reasons why the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't focused enough of its efforts on the problems of greatest environmental risk came close, but it missed the mark. The Post read between the lines of the Science Advisory Board report on EPA's issue targeting and correctly surmised that the agency is silent on some important issues because of the political war between environmentalists and industry. Indeed, during the past 20 years the agency has consumed its resources reacting to those issues handed it by Congress in the form of hard-fought, politically skewed legislation.

But the real problem is not politics, it's size. EPA has only 15,000 employees to handle the environmental problems created by 250,000,000 industrious Americans and their predecessors. That's one employee for every 17,000 people alive today or one employee for every 150 square miles of territory. There are toxic chemicals in our groundwater, toxic chemicals in our lakes and streams, toxic gases in our air and pesticides in our food, to name but a few of our problems. The effort required to straighten up the environmental mess could potentially dwarf the effort expended on any other problem, ever.

Yet the agency remains understaffed. As one of its 15,000 employees, I can assure you that the people at EPA are highly motivated. Everyone works hard. Many of the agency's scientists, attorneys, administrators and policy makers are the best in their fields. But there's simply no way for the agency to do it all -- not when everyone's time is completely consumed by the demands of existing legislation, the frenetic activity that erupts with every media issue (remember Alar?), the constant legal challenges from industry and public interest groups and the work required to meet rule-making deadlines mandated by Congress and the courts.

EPA employees don't have time to deal with any issue that doesn't have a deadline forced upon it or an outside constituency hammering it into the agenda. No matter how lean and mean you get, you can't solve the nation's environmental problems with only 15,000 people. It's that simple.