The EPA’s inspector general is blasting the agency over its “culture of complacency” that has resulted in problems like employees being paid while on leave and not being fired for watching porn at work.
The inspector general’s office released a comprehensive report of ongoing management challenges faced by EPA. The report includes a section on the EPA’s failure to take “prompt action” against employees abusing their office and the public trust.
“Recent events and activities indicate a possible ‘culture of complacency’ among some supervisors at the EPA regarding time and attendance controls, employee computer usage, real property management, and taking prompt action against employees,” the IG’s office reported.
“Issues we noted recently could lead the public to conclude that there is a lack of commitment to management policies and internal control at the EPA,” the IG report added.
So what are EPA employees doing that’s so bad? Over the past couple of years, the IG’s office has uncovered several major instances of wrongdoing and abuse from agency employees. For example, IG investigations have found that at least two EPA employees who were caught watching pornography at work were not fired.
“In November 2013 and May 2014, respectively, EPA management was made aware that two EPA employees, in two separate cases, were viewing and downloading pornography on EPA computers during work hours,” the IG found, adding the employees spent up to six hours a day watching porn.
“On March 24, 2015, both employees received a Notice of Proposed Removal from the EPA for the misconduct,” the IG noted. “One employee retired and the other is appealing the decision and remains on paid administrative leave.”
Congress has held at least two hearings on EPA’s management failures that focused on employees who were caught watching porn at work. In the latest hearing, the IG also presented findings that a senior EPA official had harassed several women and been promoted.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike criticized EPA officials for allowing such problems to occur without taking swift action.
“If you sexually harass someone it appears you get a promotion,” New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney said during a House Oversight Committee hearing in April.
“If someone makes a mistake… they are subject to heavy action” by the EPA, echoed Republican Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer. “Yet you have employees that are sexually abusive of women [and children]… yet no one was fired. They were put on paid administrative leave.”
The IG reported that “it took the EPA, on average, almost 200 days to initiate disciplinary action when EPA policies required action within 30 days of an [IG] Report of Investigation. We also found that the EPA did not take severe enough disciplinary action considering the nature of the misconduct.”
The IG’s office also found that eight employees were collectively paid more than $1 million while on administrative leave, totaling nearly 21,000 hours — more than 28 months. The IG also hammered the EPA’s so-called “Office of Homeland Security” (OHS) that has hampered audits and oversight efforts by agency watchdogs.
The IG’s report noted that OHS “continues to impede the [IG] by withholding critical information about a variety of activities it conducts… about matters within [IG] purview.”
“Among these matters are employee misconduct, cyber intrusions, and matters which the Office 15-N-0164 17 of Homeland Security defines as ‘intelligence’ or national security information, even though OIG employees have the requisite security clearances for access to that information.”
“In addition, EPA’s Office of Homeland Security continues to employ one or more criminal investigators, armed with firearms, despite the fact that the office has no authority to engage in law enforcement or investigations,” the IG reported.
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