The Environmental Protection Agency has not been firing employees for watching pornography and falsifying federal documents, according to California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa.
“How much pornography would it take for an EPA employee to lose his job?” Issa asked EPA officials, including the agency’s second-in-command, testifying before the House Oversight Committee. Issa chairs the committee.
“This individual spent four consecutive hours on a site called ‘sadism is beautiful,’” Issa pressed the EPA employees. “You are running an organization from which no one can get fired.”
Issa was pressing EPA officials to answer his question on whether or not falsifying documents is a crime. It is a crime, but Issa wanted an answer from the panelists. The EPA officials testifying before the House Oversight Committee struggled to answer Issa’s questions about agency employees falsifying federal documents by saying they are working while they were not.
An EPA employee has been viewing pornography while at work, and has even received performance awards for his time at the agency. The employee was even watching porn when inspector general agents visited his office. The employee had 7,000 porn files on his computer and had been watching porn for two to six hours per day since 2010. This employee still works at the EPA.
Another EPA employee was actually selling jewelry and weight loss pills out of her office. Renee Page is the director of the the agency’s Office of Administration, but that didn’t stop her from using her from selling her own products during business hours using her government email account, according to the OIG.
Page also hired 17 of her family members and friends as paid interns. She also paid her daughter — who also works at the EPA — from her agency’s budget account. But instead of being punished, Page received a prestigious Presidential Rank Award in 2010, for which she got $35,000 in cash.
“There’s a title that says it’s a crime right?” Issa asked again. “People defrauded the American people, and I’m hearing from the IG that they’re still on the job.”
The House committee was looking into the EPA’s so-called Office of Homeland Security that has been stymying internal agency investigations on employee misconduct. The hearing highlighted several cases where EPA employees were saying they were working when they weren’t.
“[T}he OIG conducted an investigation into serious misconduct by another EPA manager who allowed an employee to stay at home and not report for duty for several years,” said deputy assistant inspector general Allan Williams. Based on a long-standing arrangement with the employee… this EPA manager not only entered fraudulent time-and-attendance records for the absent employee but also approved the same fraudulent records.”
“It is estimated that the manager’s approval of fraudulent time-and-attendance records cost the government more than $500,000,” Williams added. “Even more egregious is that this EPA manager authored and approved exemplary performance appraisals that resulted in a cash award for the absent employee.”
On Tuesday the Associated Press reported that a unit within the EPA run by President Obama’s political staff has been operating illegally as a “rogue law enforcement agency,” blocking inspector general efforts to conduct investigations.
The EPA’s so-called Office of Homeland Security (OHS) is overseen by EPA administrator Gina McCarthy’s own chief of staff and has hindered inspector general inquiries into “employee misconduct, computer security and external threats, including compelling employees involved in cases to sign non-disclosure agreements,” the AP reports.
“Under the heavy cloak of `national security,’ the Office of Homeland Security has repeatedly rebuffed and refused to cooperate with the OIG’s ongoing requests for information or cooperation,” EPA inspector general for investigations Patrick Sullivan wrote in his prepared congressional testimony. “This block unquestionably has hamstrung the Office of Inspector General’s ability to carry out its statutory mandate to investigate wrongdoing of EPA employees.”
Sullivan said that OHS even conducted its own investigation of convicted fraudster John Beale, who stole about $1 million from the agency while posing as an agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. Sullivan said that OHS’s investigation of Beale’s activities impeded his own investigation.
EPA OHS was set up in 2003 through an administrative order, but has no legal authority to enforce the law or conduct investigations. Since 2012, however, it has been the point of contact for investigations connected to national security.
“I wholeheartedly believe that the current situation represents a significant liability for the EPA, the Congress and the American taxpayers,” Sullivan said. “In short, the actions of OHS violate the IG Act, the very legislation that Congress passed to ensure federal agencies have oversight to prevent and detect fraud waste and abuse. Without a shred of doubt, I can say that OHS is preventing the OIG from doing what Congress has mandated us to do.”
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