U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has ordered her staff to fully cooperate with the investigative efforts of the agency's internal auditors, a stark reversal from the agency's policy under the George W. Bush administration.
In a memorandum sent Friday to all agency staff, Jackson said it was imperative that agency staff provide the Office of the Inspector General "full and unrestricted access" to personnel, facilities, records and other information at the request of the auditors.
Jackson said that management should not attempt to control or influence the free flow of information during the audit process. Also, she said, EPA staff are not required to obtain permission before speaking to OIG representatives during reviews, and managers should not question employees about their interactions with OIG in the context of reviews.
Under the Bush administration, a senior agency official warned enforcement officers against speaking with the inspector general's office or with congressional investigators. In an e-mail sent in June 2008, Robbi Farrell, chief of staff in the EPA enforcement and compliance office, told compliance managers to remind their employees not to speak with investigators from the OIG, the Government Accountability Office, or reporters (E&ENews PM, July 28, 2008).
"If you are contacted directly by the IG's office or GAO requesting information of any kind, please forward their call," the e-mail said. "Please do not respond to questions or make any statements."
Jeff Ruch, executive director of the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, welcomed the shift indicated by Jackson but questioned why the agency only addressed interactions with OIG and did not go further to encourage transparency.
"It shows how low EPA had sunk that the administrator must signal as a policy change that employees will now cooperate with their own inspector general," Ruch said.
But the group questioned Jackson's failure to address questions about employees' interactions with GAO and the media. "Unfortunately, the new policy appears to be that EPA employees will be only half-gagged," Ruch said.
Charles Orzehoskie, president of a Chicago-based EPA employee union, said the memo marked a significant policy improvement.
"How could you be opposed to a memo like that?" he said. "We should be cooperating with our internal investigations authority; it only makes sense."
Navigating requests from the OIG, GAO and the media has always been an issue to some extent for agency employees, Orzehoskie said, although it has been better with some administrations than with others. "What was out last year was a much larger concern," he said, referring to the Bush administration's e-mail.
Orzehoskie said Jackson could improve the situation by issuing further memos to clarify the agency's policies on interacting with congressional auditors, the media and union investigations, which have also been stonewalled in the past.
And with many of the same employees still at EPA, he said, there are only two ways to change the agency's culture: Some of those people have to change, or someone has to issue new marching orders.
Click here to read Jackson's memo.
Click here to read the 2008 e-mail.