At the center of a now-public turf war at U.S. EPA is John C. Martin, a special agent who agency watchdogs say improperly treads on their territory and refuses to cooperate.
If the name rings a bell, it might be because his father -- John C. Martin Sr. -- was the longtime head of the same watchdog office where his son now raises hackles. The elder Martin was nominated by President Reagan to become EPA's inspector general in 1983 and was reappointed by the George H.W. Bush administration.
But if his father's watchdog chops won the junior Martin initial goodwill within the IG's office, it's now gone.
"The issue with Mr. Martin is the allegation that he's acting out of the scope of his authority," Patrick Sullivan, EPA's assistant inspector general for investigations, said in a recent interview.
Martin -- an agent who carries a badge and gun in the Office of Homeland Security -- is central to a broader spat between the Office of Inspector General and EPA that has grabbed attention beyond the agency in recent months as officials have aired their differences in public. House lawmakers last week held a hearing to investigate the matter, and officials on both sides have been meeting behind closed doors to try to work out their differences (E&E Daily, May 7).
Inspector General Arthur Elkins and his deputy, Charles Sheehan, had a "frank and productive meeting" Monday with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, according to an OIG spokeswoman. A second meeting was planned for later this week, to be followed by additional discussions in the weeks to come.
OIG investigators say Martin and his colleagues in EPA's Office of Homeland Security are acting outside their authority by conducting investigations into EPA employees, computer intrusions and threats -- the job of the watchdog office -- without informing the OIG staff. A central part of their complaint is that Martin is a criminal investigator working in an office with no authority to conduct investigations.
"Mr. Martin being detailed to OHS was improper and in a sense illegal because he's acting as a law enforcement officer carrying a gun and a badge, getting the law enforcement benefits, the law enforcement availability pay, and he's working investigations that have nothing to do with environmental crimes," Sullivan said. "They are a policy shop and a coordination shop."
Martin, 43, joined the homeland security office from EPA's criminal enforcement division. Early in the George W. Bush administration, he was on then-Administrator Christine Todd Whitman's security detail -- a protection unit set up after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a former EPA enforcement official. After Whitman created the homeland security office in 2003, Martin joined the shop on detail from the criminal enforcement branch.
In 2006, then-EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson elevated the status of the Office of Homeland Security and named Thomas Dunne, former second in command at the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, to be OHS's first associate administrator.
Officials decided to make two permanent positions for intelligence officers, and Martin got one of the jobs after a panel recommended him for the post, Dunne said in an interview this week.
"He ended up being the best person for the job," said Dunne, who retired from EPA in 2009.
At the time, it was a sore subject in the criminal enforcement office, said another former enforcement official. "The criminal enforcement office had no control over the assignment, and they were concerned about the potential for problems associated with the transfer," that person said.
There was also concern about putting a special agent into an office without law enforcement supervision. "He was being supervised by civilians, which could mean he would not get the proper guidance needed by a federal law enforcement officer," the former enforcement official said.
But Dunne maintains it was the right move. "I certainly think it's a good idea for them to have agents. I wouldn't have done it, otherwise," he said. "The office has a lot of contact with the intelligence community and receives classified information and handles classified information, and that's the primary reason."
Johnson said in an interview yesterday that homeland security officials were seen as critical to coordinating efforts with other parts of government in the post-Sept. 11 world.
Given EPA's important role for drinking water and water safety for the nation, "Having a person and persons on that team have both the responsibility and relationships with the Department of Homeland Security, with the FBI and others is important to the overall security of the nation," he said. Johnson recalled Martin as being "a great guy and dedicated public servant."
Two former EPA inspectors general -- Nikki Tinsley and Bill Roderick -- said they hadn't experienced any interference by the OHS staff during their tenures.
"I do not recall that there were any issues dealing with any part of the agency, including homeland security," said Tinsley, who stepped down in 2006. "EPA acted as if it respected the IG's office and staff. The relationship was always very professional."
Bill Roderick, who served as acting IG from 2006 until 2010, said, "We got information when we asked for it. As long as we took it to the high enough level, they cooperated."
Conflict simmered for years
The OHS office has a small staff of about 11 employees, according to EPA's website. It's seen some management shakeups recently.
Peter Jutro is currently the acting associate administrator, according to EPA. The 30-year EPA veteran was previously deputy director in the Office of Research and Development's National Homeland Security Research Center. Former acting Administrator Juan Reyes left EPA last year and is now working as an environmental health manager in Loudoun County, Va., according to his LinkedIn profile. Reyes had taken over after the office's former chief, Deborah Dietrich, retired.
Sullivan said the current conflict has simmered for some time and predates his arrival on the job more than three years ago. "So it's been ongoing for at least, say, four years, if not longer," he said.
OHS officials have been interviewing employees and telling them not to tell the OIG, pulling EPA employees' emails and phone records and searching information on employees' computers, among other things, he said.
"Those, in fact, are investigations, and that's what they're doing -- and that's clearly, clearly activity that should be reserved for the IG," Sullivan said.
Amid those complaints and others, OIG officials tried to interview Martin last October about his job. "That's the reason we were interviewing Mr. Martin, to find out 'What do you do every day?'" Sullivan said. "He basically refused to answer a lot of our questions."
Elisabeth Heller Drake, a special agent in the inspector general office, approached Martin again after the interview, but he seemed defensive and didn't want to answer questions without his attorney present, she told lawmakers at the House hearing last week. Martin's co-worker, another OHS intelligence adviser, Steven Williams, "aggressively" approached Drake and yelled at her, prompting her to file an assault complaint, she said (Greenwire, May 5).
Martin declined to comment for this story and directed questions about his position to EPA's press shop.
Sullivan noted that Martin is not facing any allegations of personal misconduct. "To my knowledge, there's never been an allegation that he has been engaged in personal misconduct -- that's very important for Mr. Martin's reputation," he said.
'We're all on the same team'
Sullivan chalked up a lot of the problem to a misunderstanding. "But it should have been solved a long time ago," he said.
It wouldn't be the first time there's been confusion or overlap about jurisdiction at EPA.
"There have always been jurisdictional issues that arise regarding the relative responsibilities of the enforcement office and the OIG," said Granta Nakayama, an attorney at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who was EPA's enforcement chief during the George W. Bush administration. "They each have enforcement responsibilities, and sometimes it isn't always clear where an investigation may ultimately lead -- and therefore which organization should have jurisdiction."
Still, he noted, some lines are pretty clear.
"If the Office of Homeland Security is conducting investigations of internal issues related to EPA operations, that is a problem because that's the OIG's role," he said.
Ultimately, Nakayama said, "We're all on the same team here, folks. We're all against the bad guys, we all want a clean environment, we all want the public to be safe ... and we all want to protect American citizens and employees in the agency from any threats."
EPA laid out the jurisdiction of various officials working on homeland security in a 2008 order. It says the homeland security chief is responsible for coordinating all activities related to intelligence and national security at EPA. That post advises senior EPA officials on all matters related to national security and intelligence, among other things. The OIG, meanwhile, is tasked with overseeing EPA intelligence operations and investigating -- or referring -- reports of questionable intelligence activities.
EPA deputy chief Perciasepe agreed that the office doesn't have investigative power.
"I agree with the IG," he told lawmakers last week. "Our Office of Homeland Security has no independent authority to do investigations ... in the classic law enforcement sense. They certainly have the ability under general purposes to analyze intelligence and do things of that nature ... To my knowledge, they do not do investigations independently. They are assisting the FBI."
And he insisted that EPA officials were committed to providing the IG's office access. "We do not want to have a problem with the IG's access to whatever they need to have in the agency. That is our position, that is Gina McCarthy's position, and I want to assure the committee of that. That goal is paramount for us."