Lawmakers are quietly pressing U.S. EPA to answer for personnel scandals and management concerns.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle -- including a Senate Democrat who faced a tough re-election fight -- have been hammering EPA for answers this year as delinquent staffers and management problems have embarrassed the agency, according to a log of congressional letters obtained by Greenwire. Those inquiries have ranged from questions about former EPA air official John Beale, who masqueraded as a CIA agent for years before he was caught, to inquiries about EPA's embattled homeland security office.
EPA has become a favorite target for conservatives and Republican lawmakers, who have seized on recent personnel problems as a new line of attack against policies they've long opposed. And while Republican lawmakers have written a raft of letters to EPA concerning management issues early this year, several Democrats had concerns of their own.
Among the lawmakers looking for answers about EPA management was Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who eked out re-election earlier this month in a tight race against former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.
Warner sent a letter to EPA in March querying whether the fake spy Beale would receive his full pension and retirement benefits, according to agency logs that tracked congressional correspondence through July 25. Beale is now serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty in federal court last year to stealing government cash while taking time off work under the guise of working as an undercover CIA agent.
Beale was forced to pay $1.4 million to the government as part of the criminal case, and GOP lawmakers have fumed over Beale's receiving a federal pension after decades of working as a top EPA staffer. EPA chief Gina McCarthy told House lawmakers in June that her agency was working with the Office of Personnel Management to try to lower his retirement annuity (E&ENews PM, June 25).
Warner also had questions for EPA officials about allegations that the agency's Region 2 administrator, Judith Enck, was using a private email account. The Virginia lawmaker -- whose state lies in EPA's Mid-Atlantic Region 3 -- sent a letter in March asking for details about emails sent by the head of the agency's New York-based office, according to the EPA logs. Conservative groups accused Enck earlier this year of using a private email account to correspond with environmental groups, according to The Daily Caller.
Another Democrat, Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, wrote to EPA in April regarding "difficulties with a discrimination complaint against management staff at the EPA."
Neither Warner's office nor Lewis' office responded to requests to provide copies of the letters before press time.
Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers' letters have been piling up at EPA.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), outgoing chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also pressed the agency on the Beale scandal earlier this year. In April, Issa asked the agency for all correspondence between Beale and his longtime best friend and former supervisor at EPA, Robert Brenner. Brenner, who retired from the agency in 2011, has been ensnared in the heated political battle surrounding Beale's fraud (Greenwire, March 12).
Issa sent another letter to EPA in May with the subject: "EPA's non-compliance with federal records, laws, failure to cooperate with congressional oversight and numerous attempts to avoid transparency." Earlier that month, Issa had threatened to hold EPA officials in contempt of Congress if the agency failed to fork over a spate of documents he had subpoenaed last year (E&ENews PM, May 7).
The subpoena, issued in November 2013, targeted a batch of EPA documents related to ongoing investigations of former EPA chief Lisa Jackson's use of a secondary email account under the alias "Richard Windsor," the controversial Pebble LP copper and gold mining project in Alaska, EPA correspondence with the White House, and information about other GOP investigations.
In the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked EPA in January for details about the number of agency employees who are absent without leave each year. He also posed questions in a March letter about what the agency's Office of Homeland Security does on a daily basis and EPA's actions toward its Office of Inspector General.
Coburn's queries came as details of an internal turf war between EPA and its internal watchdog began to spill into public view. The OIG has argued that EPA's Office of Homeland Security has overstepped its bounds, blocking watchdogs' access to information they're entitled to, and the conflict still hasn't been settled (Greenwire, Nov. 7).
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked EPA for answers about an EPA contractor who was accused of "obstructing the importation of products with potential military applications."
Vitter alleged in his May letter that EPA contractor David Hurlin had intentionally blocked the importation of some products and improperly threatened to seize and destroy property (E&ENews PM, May 21).