The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Getting Back to Basics at the EPA

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


Over the last decade, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been the poster child for government waste, employee misconduct, and job-killing policies.  This pitiful legacy offers new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt a golden opportunity to turn around the troubled agency.

President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposed a 31 percent budget cut and a 25 percent employee layoff.  While it is unlikely that Congress will agree to this request, there is little doubt that the agency needs a massive overhaul.

The agency’s history of employee misconduct has taken on a mythic quality based on the size, scope, and sheer madness of the wrongdoing.  EPA employees have been caught doing drugs ranging from marijuana to cocaine while on the job (and then receiving a performance bonus, in one instance).  Officials have been caught watching hundreds of hours of pornography at work.  In one case, an EPA contractor “was ordered to pay $22,088 in restitution,” because the contractor, “installed special software to delete the web browsing history on the computer.”  EPA officials have yet to identify the so-called “poop bandit,” who was, “placing feces in the hallway outside the restroom” at an EPA office in Denver. 

On January 7, 2016, the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that, “The EPA did not always comply with reporting requirements” that mandate reports must be filed for conferences that cost more than $100,000.  An August 16, 2016 OIG report on taxpayer-subsidized transit cards discovered at least $137,000 in “unnecessary payments” from the 31 percent of former employees who continued to receive such benefits.  An August 9, 2017 report found that EPA employees in the Pacific Northwest region were receiving emergency overtime pay without documentation or justification through January 2017.  Employees received emergency overtime pay without proper authorization in 74 percent of instances reviewed by the OIG, which represents a rampant abuse of the system and an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars. 

The clearest denunciation of the agency came in a scathing June 16, 2016, OIG report that found the EPA has a “culture of complacency” and essentially nonexistent anti-waste efforts, stating, “Commitment is not demonstrated by a one-time memo and a new policy.”  That conclusion was reached three years after the agency admitted during the 2013 government shutdown that just 6.5 percent of its employees were “essential.”

On the policy side, EPA has been one of the most intrusive behemoths in the federal government.  During the Obama era, the agency imposed the economically disastrous Clean Power Plan, pushed invasive regulations on the nation’s waters, and smoothed the way for the Paris Climate Accord. 

In his short time as agency administrator, “EPA originalist” Scott Pruitt has been aggressive in reversing these regressive policies.  A July 1, 2017 New York Times article stated that Administrator Pruitt, “has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history.”  The Times may frame this as a negative, but this regulatory rollback was based on his “Back to Basics” approach that is meant to return the EPA to its core responsibilities and well within its legal jurisdiction (as opposed to the radically expansive role of the EPA during the Obama era). 

After the Supreme Court granted a stay on the Obama Clean Power Plan on February 7, 2017, the EPA sent a guidance letter to governors on March 30, “advising them that they are under no obligation to adhere to the Clean Power Plan rule.”

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.  This action enabled the administration to pursue pro-growth energy policies that limit the regulatory power of the federal government, saved millions of jobs that would have been lost had the accord gone into effect, and avoided burdening taxpayers with billions of dollars in payments to the United Nations Green Climate Fund. 

On June 27, 2017, EPA, along with the Department of Army and Army Corps of Engineers, proposed a reduction in the massive scope of the Obama-era Waters of the United States rule, which was so broad that it gave the federal government authority to regulate streams, ponds, ditches, and puddles. The reduction proposal laid the groundwork for the regulation to be fully rescinded. 

While the EPA still has a long road back to its original mandate, Administrator Pruitt has made a significant and positive impact at the agency in his first several months.  Taxpayers are looking forward to additional reforms in the future. 

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