EPA Mismanagement Revisited

Washington, D.C., May 8, 2014 – It just gets messier and messier at the Environmental Protection Agency, which I anointed in March as the champion of agency mismanagement in Washington. That blog was based in large part on the case of  the now jailed John Beale, who defrauded EPA (and the taxpayers) of $900,000 by conning his supervisors at the agency, including now EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, that he was also working clandestinely as a CIA agent.

The plot thickens, and sickens. At a House Oversight & Government Reform Committee hearing this week, the agency’s inspector general peeled away layers of the bureaucratic onion that reveal even more pungent cases of mismanagement. The major witness was IG investigator Allen Williams. He testified to some shockers:

* For years, a senior agency official spent up to six hours a day at his agency desk viewing pornography. “When an OIG special agent arrived at this employee’s work space to conduct an interview, the special agent witnessed the employee actively viewing pornography on his government-issued computer,” Williams said. “Subsequently, the employee confessed to spending, on average, between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work.” This EPA employee continues to draw a $120,000 annual salary, Bob Perciasepe, the EPA deputy administrator, told the committee, because it is extraordinarily difficult to fire federal employees for cause.

* Another EPA manager, said Williams, “allowed an employee to stay at home and not report for duty for several years. Based on a long-standing arrangement with the employee (which allegedly began as an accommodation to work at home due to a medical condition), this EPA manager not only entered fraudulent time-and-attendance records for the absent employee but also approved the same fraudulent records.” The cost to the government: at least $500,000. What’s doubly troubling, said Williams, “is that this EPA manager authored and approved exemplary performance appraisals that resulted in a cash award for the absent employee.”

* The IG is investigating a top civil servant “who has not been physically able” to work “for at least the last year; however, this employee continues to draw a full salary and receive the benefits of an active employee.” The employee “has resided in an assisted living facility for more than a year,” with the supervisor’s knowledge.

This is an amazing indictment of the EPA management, from the top down to the supervisory level. Last March, I blogged, “When it comes to mismanagement, EPA takes the bureaucratic cake.” In addition to the John Beale story, my comments were based on EPA IG reports about widespread credit card abuse by EPA employees. It was an ugly picture.

And then came the bombshells in the House committee this week. On top of the IG’s detailing of the horrible practices described above, comes the information that a secretive 10-person EPA Office of Homeland Security, created by then-EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman in 2003 in the aftermath of  9/11, operates in the agency’s shadows. The office reports directly to the agency head and is, by the accounts of the witnesses in the House hearing, unaccountable to anyone else in the chain of command. The office has even negotiated an agreement with the FBI on information sharing that deals the inspector general’s office out of the loop.

Assistant IG Patrick Sullivan told the House committee that the homeland security office “has dangerously morphed into a de facto law enforcement and investigative organization without any authority to conduct investigations. This masquerade has led to the EPA’s direct impedence of the OIG to conduct investigations as mandated under the [Inspector General Act]. Under the heavy cloak of ‘national security,’ OHS has repeated rebuffed and refused to cooperate with the OIB’s ongoing requests for information or cooperation.”

This constitutes a portrait of a federal agency with serious internal management problems. It’s up to Gina McCarthy to deal with the problems, and fast.