Union demands investigation into ‘climate of fear,’ alleged staff abuse at EPA

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The Daily Caller has obtained an internal “report of violence in the workplace” notifying top officials at the Environmental Protection Agency about the abusive behavior of a political appointee close to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

The report and call for an independent investigation and action highlights the behavior of Stephanie Owens, an EPA deputy associate administrator in the Office of the Administrator’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. It details a March 14 incident in which Owens, a political appointee, verbally attacked a bargaining unit employee to the point that the union member was afraid to return to her office — for the second time in two weeks.

The memo is dated March 15 and was penned by Steve Shapiro, the executive vice-president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 3331 — the largest bargaining unit at EPA. It goes on to explain that this is just one of many incidents involving Owens that have created a “climate of fear” in the department.

According to the document, while the union has officially complained about Owens’ behavior in the past, she has remained in her position and EPA has not addressed the union’s concerns about her behavior or the “climate of fear.”

“Office of the Administrator management has been derelict in meeting its responsibilities…,” the document reads. “[Addressing the ‘climate of fear’] is long overdue. Had Office of the Administrator management done this and had appropriate standards of conduct regarding violence in the workplace and harassment in the workplace been established and enforced within the Office of the Administrator’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education, yesterday’s incident might never have occurred. EPA management finally needs to step up to the plate and do the right thing.”

AFGE Local 3331 contends that they have “no confidence in EPA’s Violence in the Workplace program leadership,” explaining that the program only serves the managers rather than the interests of “all EPA employees” since AFGE’s complaints have been dismissed and marginalized.

The document calls on the EPA to launch an “immediate, independent, credible, outside investigation” into the incident and the “climate of fear” staff has been reporting to their union. AFGE further notes that the moment the incident is corroborated, Owens should be immediately removed from the OEAEE premises — if not the entire EPA campus — until an investigation is completed.

According to a former EPA official who served under the Bush administration and is familiar with the situation, the incident has been par for the course under Lisa Jackson.

“That’s the way this administration, this management team, has been running things over at the agency,” the former official told TheDC. “Lisa Jackson has a coterie of people around her who are very arrogant, and think they know how the place should be run and do not include very many other folks in the process, and just seem to kind of run roughshod over everybody. And so when folks heard this, yeah that’s just in keeping with how Lisa Jackson has been running EPA since she came on board.”

While the document describes the inner wranglings at EPA, Bonner Cohen, senior fellow at the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research, noted that the administration’s aggressive tactics have extended past their union staff and into the agency’s work.

“Career professional staff at EPA, or any other federal agency, should not have to live in fear of intimidation and bullying on the part of political appointees,” Cohen said.

“Communities, small businesses and others subjected to EPA’s torrent of regulations under Administrator Jackson have had to deal with their own ‘climate of fear,’” he continued. “Now, it appears that same phenomenon prevails within the agency.”

View the complaint against EPA’s Stephanie Owens

The EPA website continues to list Owens as the deputy associate administrator in the Office of the Administrator’s Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education.

The agency would not answer TheDC’s questions regarding whether an investigation was held, if Jackson was aware of the complaint, if EPA stands by Owens or if such behavior is common among political appointees at EPA.

“In this and all similar matters, EPA takes its responsibility seriously and acted in accordance with all applicable laws. The matter is now closed,” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan wrote in an email to TheDC. “EPA cannot respond further to requests for information on personnel matters.”

AFGE Local 3331 also declined to comment on the matter.

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