The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing last week at which it was revealed that one senior civil servant at the Environmental Protection Agency spent much of his office time watching pornography over the Internet. The career employee admitted to the EPA’s Inspector General’s Office (OIG) that he spent two to six hours a day watching porn videos. This included four straight hours at a site called Sadism Is Beautiful, according to news reports.
The OIG discovered 7,000 pornographic videos downloaded to the employee’s computer. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) asked the EPA officials testifying whether this conduct was illegal and whether the civil servant had been fired. Yes, it is illegal, but Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe admitted that he had not been fired and confirmed that he was still being paid over $120,000 a year and in addition had received performance awards in cash. One hesitates to ask what performance was being rewarded.
Deputy Assistant Inspector General Allan Williams also testified about other misconduct that has been revealed by the OIG’s wider investigation launched after the John Beale scandal came to light.
For example, the director of the EPA’s Office of Administration, Renee Page, ran a retail business out of her office and had hired 17 family members over the years as paid interns. Page received a $35,000 Presidential Rank performance award.
These are some of the “juicy bits,” but the really explosive testimony came from Deputy Inspector General Patrick Sullivan:
The EPA OIG’s Office of Investigations is being impeded from fulfilling its responsibilities by actions of the EPA’s internal Office of Homeland Security (OHS), a unit within the Office of the Administrator. OHS is overseen by Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, who serves as Chief of Staff to Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Sullivan continued in no uncertain terms:
I would like to go on record today and state that, as the official in charge of internal investigations at the EPA, I am very concerned that vital information regarding suspected employee and contractor misconduct is being withheld from the OIG.
Because OHS continues to block my office’s access to information essential to the OIG’s work, I cannot assure the committee that we are doing everything possible to root out other “John Beales” who may be at the EPA or other malfeasance of similar magnitude. I wholeheartedly believe that the current situation represents a significant liability for the EPA, the Congress and the American taxpayers. In short, the actions of OHS violate the IG Act, the very legislation that Congress passed to ensure federal agencies have oversight to prevent and detect fraud waste and abuse. Without a shred of doubt, I can say that OHS is preventing the OIG from doing what Congress has mandated us to do.
It should be noted that many of the recent scandals at the EPA involve senior staff. Al Armendariz, who boasted of randomly “crucifying” businesses, was the head of the EPA office in Dallas. Perciasepe is the No. 2 guy at the entire agency. Page was the director of a major division. No wonder the OIG’s efforts are being blocked.
This is obviously not the way a government department should be run. A responsible head of the Executive Branch would at the very least have ordered a full, independent investigation of the way the EPA runs, and should probably have ordered mass firings. Instead, the EPA and its senior staff continue operating as judge, jury, and executioner, to quote one Democratic congressman, over large swathes of American industry. Vast power,vast discretion, and a lack of accountability add up to one thing — the corruption of the public-service ethos we see at work nowhere more clearly than at the EPA.
(This post is adapted from the Cooler Heads Digest, a weekly summary of news and analysis about global warming and the environment, edited by my colleagues Myron Ebell and William Yeatman.)