Waste Proliferates Inside the EPA in 2016 | Citizens Against Government Waste

Waste Proliferates Inside the EPA in 2016

The WasteWatcher

No department or agency in the federal government is immune from the bureaucratic toxin of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.  Ironically, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is responsible for cleaning up all kinds of sewage, sludge, and foul matter, has consistently been one of the most wasteful agencies.  EPA officials have so consistently mismanaged and squandered the taxpayers’ money in 2016 that this year alone should serve as a teachable moment for other federal agencies.

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.  The report found that EPA officials failed to disclose $350,782 in conference spending.  Furthermore, the OIG found that EPA spent $253,846 in taxpayer funds and “entered into a contract for conference planning services including support for agenda development and logistics” for the Water Environment Federation’s conference.  However, the EPA did not consider those actions to constitute “sponsorship” and thus contended that they could dodge the reporting requirements.  The OIG stood by its findings.

While EPA officials ran into trouble when they were out of the office, the OIG uncovered sordid activity inside the office as well.  Covering dates between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, the OIG released a series of “Employee Integrity Cases” detailing closed cases of employee wrongdoing.  The reports found that pornography was viewed on EPA computers on four separate occasions during that period.  In one instance, 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.” 

The investigation found that “for 18 years, the contractor’s employee had spent approximately 1 to 2 hours a day viewing pornography with the EPA computer equipment during core work hours.”  The report also found that an EPA employee attended an official meeting while intoxicated and another “was cited for attempting to bring approximately three grams of marijuana and two marijuana pipes through the security checkpoint at an Internal Revenue Service facility.” 

Outright fraud was also uncovered by the OIG with paltry consequences.  An EPA manager was found to have 11 substantiated misconduct violations including the theft of “more than $5,000 of grant funds from a U.S. – Mexico border program by diverting funds through invoices.”  After agreeing to pay back the funds, the manager was demoted rather than fired. 

Lax oversight of employee transit subsidies enabled EPA officials to use their taxpayer-funded Metro cards for months after they left the agency.  An August 16, 2016 OIG report discovered at least $137,000 in “unnecessary payments” from the 31 percent of former employees who continued to receive benefits. 

A scathing June 16, 2016, report summarized the underlying cause of the agency’s disgraceful display of ineptitude.  The IG found that the EPA has a “culture of complacency” and essentially non-existent anti-waste efforts, stating, “Commitment is not demonstrated by a one-time memo and a new policy.”  From the litany of internal delinquencies at the EPA in 2016, the OIG’s conclusions have never had more validation. 

A more fundamental point regarding this laundry list of EPA malpractice is the indispensable role the OIG plays in making this wrongdoing available for public scrutiny.  Without the OIG, EPA employees would be free to waste, commit fraud, and mismanage taxpayer dollars.  However, the OIG’s May 2016 semi-annual report to Congress disclosed a disturbing trend of stonewalling and denial of access. 

Much of the obstruction stems from the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and their insistence not to share information with the OIG unless the FBI and OHS deem the material to be within the OIG’s jurisdiction.  The OIG semi-annual report made clear where the statutory responsibility lies:  “Under the Inspector General Act, the OIG is to have access to all information ‘available to’ the agency.  Only the OIG— not some agency component – can determine whether it will pursue or forego further investigation of a matter.”  Unfortunately, the OIG reported that despite the FBI’s assurance to the contrary, “when it came to implementation, OHS has asserted that it will not inform OIG of cases.”

The EPA’s stated mission “is to protect human health and the environment.”  However, when it comes to its own agency’s internal management environment, EPA is plagued with a toxic mix of wasteful practices and investigatory obstruction, which allows employee misconduct to go unpunished and fraud to continue unabated.  The EPA is in desperate need of an internal cleanup, or it will lose what little credibility it has left. 

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