Vitter: EPA Needs More Oversight, Transparency to Fix Broken Internal Management Practices
Vitter hopes Congressional oversight will lead to reforms within EPA following extensive fraud and theft case
October 1, 2013
U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, made the following statement in conjunction with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing held today overseeing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigation of John Beale, a former EPA senior official who last week pled guilty to criminal charges for stealing nearly $900,000 from the Agency. Yesterday, Sen. Vitter asked EPW Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to hold a full committee hearing on the fraudulent activity of Mr. Beale at the EPA. Click here to read more.
"The Beale-Brenner saga is but one example of something endemic-- it is clear that this enormous agency has almost zero management control over its employees; yet it refuses to adopt common sense management practices," said Vitter. "Today's House Oversight Committee hearing is crucial to begin fixing the fundamental problems within EPA, but the EPW Committee needs to be involved to look into how this extraordinary level of misconduct, incompetence, and fraud occurred and what can be done to prevent this in the future."
As the oversight and investigation moves forward, Vitter has suggested 10 specific questions for those involved to focus on. Vitter proposed the following questions that should be asked of EPA officials and the EPA OIG:
1. What is the EPA's process for approving bonuses? Surprisingly, the OIG claimed that senior officials including Mr. Perciasepe when he served as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation should not be held accountable for faulty bonus applications. In the private sector, management is directly accountable for pay and bonuses. Similarly, should a manager at a federal agency be responsible for otherwise summarily approving bonuses and should there be oversight mechanisms in place?
2. What is EPA's policy for reporting suspicious activity of employees? It appears that the decision by EPA management to contact the Office of General Counsel rather than the OIG significantly impaired the OIG's investigation. In addition, the OGC's decision to contact the Office of Homeland Security rather than the OIG also hindered the OIG's investigation. What corrective measures are being put in place to ensure OIG is the first office to be made aware of suspicious activity?
3. What are EPA's procedures for employees retiring? Beale originally announced his intention to retire in May 2011 and even participated in a retirement party in September 2011; however, Beale was able to manipulate the process and provide endless excuses to continue to receive his paycheck and bonuses without doing any EPA work for over a year and a half.
4. What is the threshold for the firing process at EPA and what role do the employee unions play in the process? Even after it was revealed that Beale was paid nearly $350,000 for work he did not do for the EPA, the Agency did not take action to terminate him.
5. Does a level of cronyism exist in EPA's air office that protects certain staff from appropriate scrutiny? Who was responsible for Beale going months without showing up to work, and Brenner receiving a sweetheart discount on a Mercedes, and where was the oversight?
6. Should EPA employees that commit fraud against the agency, or otherwise commit a crime against the American public receive full pension and retirement benefits? Will the 2 ½ years Beale was absent for "CIA work" be deemed creditable federal service when calculating his pension benefits?
7. How much money does EPA spend on travel? Beale spent over $87,000 in taxpayer dollars to visit his family in California under the notion he was working on an EPA research project. It is absurd that EPA employees signed off on his erroneous travel vouchers because, as the OIG indicated, employees thought he was "special." Is there really a different standard for certain EPA employees' travel? Who is "special" at the EPA that can get away with this?
8. How does EPA monitor its employees' salaries? Beale was promoted to a senior-level pay grade almost immediately after getting an Incentive Retention Bonus. Beale received a number of other bonuses that led to his salary exceeding the statutory maximum for federal employees at his pay level. How could this happen without someone signing off or knowing about it?
9. How long has Robert Brenner known about Beale's deception(s)? It's hard to believe he was ignorant of Beale's fraud when Brenner was a close friend and former classmate, who recruited Beale to the EPA, recommended him for the bonuses and promotion, owned property with him for nearly 16 years and is currently housing Beale in his guest room. What is the true depth of Robert Brenner's involvement in the multiple instances of fraud against the agency?
10. Is anyone else tainted from the Beale-Brenner fiasco? Was anyone else, at a minimum, willfully ignorant?