ICYMI: Wall Street Journal Editorial "The EPA 'Spy' and Double Standards"
February 24, 2014
In recent weeks, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee, has been questioning the methods used in recent investigations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), specifically in the aftermath of the John C. Beale investigation. Below is a column by the Wall Street Journal on the "double standards" at the EPA. Click here to read more about Sen. Vitter's efforts.
Wall Street Journal
The official story about the Environmental Protection Agency fraudster who pretended to work for the CIA has collapsed. It turns out that EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy not only didn't uncover John Beale's crimes. She helped him collect extra taxpayer money and appears to have ignored critical evidence of his fraud more than two years before he left the agency. Meanwhile, in another EPA case, the government has threatened an employee with prison time for alleged management errors that appear far less serious than those of Ms. McCarthy.
Faux spy John Beale bilked taxpayers out of almost $900,000 as he pretended for years to be a CIA agent frequently away on secret missions. In reality, taxpayers were funding travel and time off from his job at the EPA. And for years managers including Ms. McCarthy allowed him to get paid as if he was working full-time at the EPA.
In January 2011 Ms. McCarthy ignored a staff recommendation to cancel Beale's annual retention bonus. Then in 2012, after staff informed her that he was still on the payroll after he claimed to have retired, she waited seven months before referring the matter to the EPA's general counsel. Yet Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) have praised Ms. McCarthy for her handling of the Beale disaster.
Now look at how the feds are treating another EPA manager accused of failing to appropriately document an employee work schedule. Mark Townsend is a career scientist in the EPA's Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. In July 2012 he received a visit from the staff of the EPA Inspector General's office. The IG staff wouldn't tell him the reason for their inquiry but asked about various personnel matters. They eventually focused on one particular staff scientist and demanded that Mr. Townsend write out and sign a statement about his management of this employee.
A year later, the Department of Justice threatened to charge Mr. Townsend with various crimes because he had filled out electronic time cards attesting that the scientist had been on duty, and had also signed off on regular summaries of days worked. The scientist whose time cards the DOJ considered fraudulent had not been at the office.
By longstanding arrangement that predated Mr. Townsend's arrival in the office, the woman had been allowed to work from home and not much was expected of her. She was believed to suffer from severe multiple sclerosis and while Mr. Townsend never saw any medical documentation, he did visit her house once to help her use her computer. It was part of his effort to help her become more productive.
He reports that she was confined to a wheelchair and that the entire house had been configured to accommodate her apparent illness. Prosecutors have not claimed that she wasn't sick, but only that she wasn't doing enough work from home to justify the time for which she was paid.
We recount all this because Justice's treatment of Mr. Townsend contrasts so sharply with the handling of the EPA senior officials who knowingly filled out bogus time cards for John Beale and haven't been charged with anything. Has anyone even received a reprimand?
The contrast gets odder still. On June 28, 2013, U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen sent to Mark Townsend's lawyer a draft plea agreement. Mr. Townsend was given two weeks to plead guilty to first degree misdemeanor fraud, punishable by up to 180 days imprisonment. If he did not accept this deal, prosecutors warned that they would "bring the hammer down."
Less than two months later, the charges against Beale became public. And since then Mr. Townsend has heard nothing. No charges, no exoneration, nada. Mr. Townsend has continued to work at the EPA while wondering if he'll be charged. He's also been wondering, given the DOJ threats against him, how it's possible that none of Beale's supervisors has faced such threats. The number of times that someone had to fill out a false report for Beale in one of the two software programs that EPA uses to track attendance and leave time must be significant.
One could argue that EPA Administrator McCarthy and other senior officials were duped, and that when they signed off on false information about Beale they really believed he was a spy. But according to a working paper from the EPA Inspector General, Deputy EPA Administrator Bob Perciasepe said he informed Ms. McCarthy and another senior aide in early 2011 that there were no CIA employees at the EPA. Yet Beale was allowed to remain on the EPA payroll until spring 2013.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office says it has no comment on Mark Townsend and doesn't comment on cases in which no public action has been taken. But if prosecutors take any action at all, and they want to set an example at the EPA, they should start at the top-and leave Mark Townsend alone.