A special agent for EPA’s internal watchdog forgot something important after a trip to the bathroom — a gun.
The agent left his or her service weapon "unattended" in a restroom stall in the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., according to a investigative report obtained by Greenwire under the Freedom of Information Act.
The agent, in an interview with the IG’s office in March 2015, confessed to leaving the firearm in the bathroom.
"During the interview the Subject admitted that [redacted] left [redacted] service weapon unattended in a [redacted] bathroom stall located WJC West Room [redacted] and the Subject stated that there was not [sic] excuse for what happened," the report says.
A management inquiry was completed last May that substantiated the allegation. In July 2015, EPA Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Patrick Sullivan issued a one-day suspension for the agent based upon "the Douglas Factors" and other information, the report says.
The Douglas Factors are criteria used by federal managers when they are considering the appropriate penalty to impose for employee misconduct. The factors take their name from a landmark decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board known as Douglas v. Veterans Administration.
The agent ended up serving the one-day suspension last July 27.
The report obtained by Greenwire is marked as "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY," noting "its disclosure to unauthorized persons is prohibited." The report’s release to the public is to be determined under FOIA.
Several redactions were made to the report citing various exemptions under FOIA, including for deliberative process and personal privacy.
The forgotten firearm was disclosed in a semiannual report released by the EPA IG in November last year (Greenwire, Nov. 30, 2015). That report made note of the mishap, acknowledging that the investigation was initiated by a tip coming from the IG’s hotline.
"On July 21, 2015, an OIG special agent was suspended for 1 day without pay for failing to properly secure an OIG-issued firearm in the workplace," says the semiannual report in a summary of the incident.
In response to questions from Greenwire about the gun left in the bathroom, a spokeswoman for the EPA IG declined to comment.
"While we appreciate your questions and the opportunity to respond, the EPA OIG cannot comment on a personnel matter beyond the information we provided you under the Freedom of Information Act," spokeswoman Jennifer Kaplan said.
EPA’s guns under scrutiny
Incidents like the forgotten firearm could give more ammunition to EPA’s critics. EPA and other federal agencies’ authority to hold and use guns has come under question on Capitol Hill in recent years.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) offered legislation last year that would stop EPA and other agencies from buying or using certain military-grade firearms, such as machine guns and grenades. Stewart’s bill would also repeal the arrest and firearm authority granted to inspectors general (Greenwire, Dec. 3, 2015).
Others have specifically targeted EPA over the agency’s use of guns during its law enforcement work.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) offered amendments last year to strip EPA of its firearms. Sullivan said his inspiration for the measures was an 2013 incident in Chicken, Alaska, where EPA law enforcement agents investigated alleged Clean Water Act violations in a small mining community (Greenwire, April 22, 2015).
Critics of agencies not known for chasing criminals, such as EPA, point to the government’s growing ranks of armed agents.
A 2012 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that, in 2008, there were 120,000 full-time law enforcement officers employed by federal agencies, including at EPA and the agency’s inspector general office. That report also found that the number of those officers increased by about 15,000, or 4 percent, between 2004 and 2008.
EPA, however, has defended its right to hold and use firearms. Last June, Mike Fisher, a senior official in the agency’s enforcement office, penned an op-ed saying EPA agents needed to carry guns for their own protection and to serve the agency’s mission (Greenwire, June 25, 2015).