U.S. EPA's international affairs office lost track of about 200 passports purported to be in its possession, according to a new report from the agency's watchdog.
The audit released today by the EPA Office of Inspector General found that 199 of the 417 employee passports reportedly in the possession of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs couldn't be located.
The office failed to enforce its passport guidance of having staff return passports after travel, the report said. "Lack of compliance with agency guidance may put the agency in the position where sensitive personally identifiable information is not being adequately protected."
The audit was conducted as part of a broader probe into EPA's policies in the wake of the fraud of former top air official John Beale, who's now in prison for lying for years about doing secret work for the CIA while stealing government salary and benefits.
Congressional Republicans have accused the agency of allowing his fraud to slip through the cracks for years, while EPA officials have said his fraud represented an isolated incident and made efforts to tighten up management procedures.
The IG's office recommended that the international affairs office set up a plan to identify official passports issued to agency employees and ensure that passports not currently being used for travel are returned to the agency for proper storage or cancellation.
EPA officials accepted all the recommendations and laid out corrective actions in a document sent to the IG's office last month.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency contacted employees still in possession of their official or diplomatic passport and EPA is in the process of identifying the status of every passport. Employees who aren't frequent travelers or on call to respond to border emergencies have been asked to send their passports back to the international affairs office, and most have, she said.
Those with lost or stolen passports are completing paperwork to officially notify the State Department, Purchia added, and EPA is reviewing and revising its database to ensure it has up-to-date passport information.
In a separate report released today, the inspector general's office also found its own passport policies to be deficient.
"The EPA OIG is not in compliance with EPA guidance governing the control and security of official passports issued to OIG employees," the audit said. The IG office doesn't have any policies or procedures associated with official passports, and the total number of OIG employees with an official passport is unknown.
The audit recommended that the OIG identify all the passports that were issued to staff and return them to the international affairs office for proper storage or cancellation. They also recommended notifying the State Department about passports that aren't located.