Federal investigators are looking into whether the EPA is covering up or improperly handling sexual harassment complaints.
The agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) told the EPA there will be investigations into the EPA’s Region 5 office, which covers parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.
“The committee requested the OIG to determine whether Region 5 managers appropriately handled allegations of sexual harassment,” according to a letter from the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, the congressional committee requesting the investigation.
EPA’s failure to hold employees responsible for bad behavior is an ongoing concern.
Senior EPA officials in 2015 largely ignored complaints by 16 women, mostly employees, accusing one agency official of sexual harassment. The employee got promoted despite the complaints.
“You have employees that are sexually abusive of women [and children]… yet no one was fired,” said Alabama Rep. Gary Palmer. “They were put on paid administrative leave.”
The committee also held a hearing in May showing that the EPA paid a registered sex offender to retire rather than terminating his employment.
The sex offender was fired in 2014 for violating his probation, but the Merit Systems Protection Board reinstated him, according to EPA inspector general records. The employee was paid $55,000 to resign in 2015.
The inspector general plans on finding out whether the EPA is following proper protocol addressing such matters. It also wants to determine whether the agency’s human resources are following proper federal requirements.
“To accomplish this objective, we will identify the universe of sexual harassment complaints made over the last five years, select a sample and review case files,” the letter stated. “We will also conduct interviews with management and regional staff to determine whether Region 5 followed applicable policies and practices, as well as complied with federal requirements.”
Region 5 has come under fire recently, as its Michigan offices were responsible for hashing out regulations that could have helped prevent the Flint lead poisoning debacle in 2015. The leader of that office, Susan Hedman, resigned shortly after the crisis made headlines.
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