EPA:

Special agent recalls 'aggressive' confrontation with agency officials

Last October, Elisabeth Heller Drake, a special agent in U.S. EPA's inspector general office, tried to interview John Martin, an intelligence adviser and special agent in EPA's Office of Homeland Security as part of an ongoing investigation.

It didn't go well, and, in the aftermath, Drake filed an assault complaint against another EPA employee, she will tell members of Congress this week, according to a copy of her testimony obtained by Greenwire. Drake is slated to testify on Capitol Hill Wednesday as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigates whether EPA officials are obstructing the work of the inspector general's office (E&E Daily, May 5).

The interview with Martin was "difficult," according to Drake. Martin's personal attorney was present, "but he would not answer even basic questions," and he kept indicating that he needed to be home to meet his children, so the interview was cut short.

Afterward, Drake realized that Martin left without signing a nondisclosure form and without getting the standard warning not to discuss the ongoing investigation. She went to track him down and found Martin discussing details of the interview with two other EPA employees -- Nancy Dunham from EPA's Office of General Counsel and EPA Intelligence Adviser Steven Williams.

Drake told Martin to immediately desist from discussing the interview with anyone except his attorney. Dunham yelled from down the hallway that Drake was wrong, and Williams approached her "aggressively," according to Drake's testimony.

Williams stepped in between Drake and Martin, screaming at her to "Put it in writing!" she said.

"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. If someone had acted that way toward her on the street, she said, she might have arrested him, and she was "shocked" to be approached in that way by what appeared to be a high-ranking EPA official.

"While Mr. Williams is not a large man, his inexplicable anger and aggressiveness in this professional office setting managed to leave me feeling intimidated," she said. She introduced herself to Williams and put out her hand to shake his, but he refused, saying, "I don't want to know you," according to Drake.

Williams hung up on a Greenwire reporter today when called for comment. Martin did not respond to a request for comment, and Dunham has left the agency, according to the general counsel's office.

Drake declined to comment for this story. Her attorney, David Schleicher, said in a statement, "Whether a taxpayer, an entity regulated by EPA, or an environmental group -- a healthy and independent OIG is in everyone's best interest."

Due to a potential conflict of interest, the assault charge is now being investigated by the inspector general at the Department of Defense, according to EPA OIG spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan.

That's not the only case of EPA officials taking action to prevent the inspector general's office from conducting investigations, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins has told lawmakers previously.

"Over the past 12 months, there have been several EPA officials who have taken action to prevent OI from conducting investigations or have attempted to obstruct investigations through intimidation," Elkins wrote earlier this year to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (Greenwire, Feb. 26).

Another incident involved the case of John Beale, a former EPA official who masqueraded for years as a CIA agent and is now serving a prison sentence for stealing government cash. A staff attorney in EPA's Office of General Counsel may have known about problems with Beale's pay several months or even a year prior to what they told criminal investigators but refused to do a subsequent interview with auditors, the IG's office told Vitter.

EPA's Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe has said the events must be seen in the context of a broader disagreement between the OIG and the agency over the IG's role in matters of national security (Greenwire, March 6).

After Drake filed her complaint, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy reached out to Elkins and to Juan Reyes, who was then acting associate administrator of the Homeland Security Office, according to a memo obtained by Greenwire. McCarthy said she had asked EPA's general counsel to lead a dialogue between Elkins and Reyes to resolve questions about the Homeland Security Office's role in national security investigations. As that dialogue proceeded, she asked that the OIG "temporarily halt its review" of the Homeland Security Office's role.

Drake will tell Congress this week that she wasn't allowed to resume the investigation involving the Office of Homeland Security Staff, and that the administrator didn't remind those involved of their duty to cooperate with the inspector general's office. "We are now more than six months out from the events of October 24," she said, "yet I believe the investigation underway the day of the assault continues to go uninvestigated."

Drake will be testifying as an individual, not on behalf of the agency or the inspector general's office.

EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said in March that EPA and the OIG were "working together to resolve our disagreement regarding areas of responsibility within matters related to national security."

Twitter: @rbravender | Email: rbravender@eenews.net

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