Working Hard or Hardly Working at the EPA

EPA inspector general describes numerous ethical failures at agency

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee / AP
May 7, 2014

An Environmental Protection Agency employee who spent two to six hours a day perusing pornography websites such as "Sadism is Beautiful" received performance bonuses for his hard work, investigators told Congress Thursday.

That was just one of the outrageous instances of misconduct by EPA officials revealed at a Wednesday hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

Investigators at the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (IG), an independent watchdog, described numerous ethical failures at the nation’s top environmental agency. One employee sold jewelry out of her office, hired a family member and steered bonuses toward her in clear violation of nepotism rules, and then was awarded a prestigious $35,000 bonus herself.

Another employee had received performance awards despite not producing any work in the past five years.

"The EPA’s an agency where you can get an award for not even working at all," House oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) said.

The hearing was spurred by the case of John Beale, a senior EPA official who duped his colleagues and superiors into believing he was a CIA spy.

Beale pleaded guilty in September 2013 to time card and travel fraud spanning two decades and amounting to nearly $900,000 in taxpayer dollars. Beale also spent a total of two and a half years absent from work, claiming he was away on CIA business. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison in December 2013.

"Today we are going to understand that John Beale’s behavior did not happen in a vacuum," Issa said, calling it "just the tip of EPA’s fraudulent iceberg."

Allan Williams, the deputy assistant IG for investigations, told the House Oversight Committee Wednesday that his office had discovered an EPA official who habitually watched porn on a government computer.

"One such investigation involves a career EPA employee who allegedly stored pornographic materials on an EPA network server shared by colleagues," Williams testified. "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. Subsequently, the employee confessed to spending, on average, between two and six hours per day viewing pornography while at work. The OIG’s investigation determined that the employee downloaded and viewed more than 7,000 pornographic files during duty hours."

Williams said the case had been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. However, the EPA official is still employed at the agency and pulls down more than $120,000 in annual salary.

In fact, the employee received performance bonuses while spending up to four hours at a time on such websites as "Sadism is Beautiful."

Lawmakers at the hearing expressed exasperation.

"When we have an employee who is looking at over 600 porn sites in a four-day period—and it's there in black and white—fire them!" said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah).

"How much pornography would it take for an EPA employee to lose their job?" Issa asked.

"Somebody viewing pornographic sites, should be terminated and not be given bonuses," Issa continued.

Incidentally, Wednesday was also National Masturbation Day.

EPA inspector general agents also described how the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security has been obstructing their investigations.

"Under the heavy cloak of 'national security,' the Office of Homeland Security has repeatedly rebuffed and refused to cooperate with the OIG's ongoing requests for information or cooperation," Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan testified. "This block unquestionably has hamstrung the Office of Inspector General's ability to carry out its statutory mandate to investigate wrongdoing of EPA employees."

As previously reported by the Washington Free Beacon, uncooperative EPA officials urged other employees to sign non-disclosure agreements and physically threatened one IG agent.

At Wednesday’s hearing, IG agent Elizabeth Drake described the encounter.

"He repeatedly jabbed his finger at me, merely inches from my chest, and as he got more aggressive, his complexion heated, his veins bulged, and he began to sweat profusely," Drake said.

The Oversight Committee also revealed several other cases of alleged misconduct investigated by the IG.

In one case, an EPA employee was allegedly paid while living in a retirement home while doing no work. When an investigation began, the EPA placed the employee on sick leave.

In another case, an EPA employee with multiple sclerosis was paid $600,000 over the past five years to work from home, despite producing no work. She retired after an investigation.

Beale and other federal employees who retire under the dark cloud of an IG investigation are entitled to a full federal pension, even if they are convicted of misusing taxpayer dollars.

Deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said those cases represent a small fraction of the EPA’s employees, and the agency has been working with the IG to improve its oversight.

"The overwhelming majority of the approximately 16,000 EPA employees are dedicated, hardworking, professional public servants, a point on which I know the inspector general agrees with me," Perciasepe testified. "I remain very proud of both the EPA’s achievements in protecting human health and the environment on behalf of the American people, and of the EPA employees who work hard every day to make those achievements possible."