Watchdog Says EPA Management Failing to Promptly Discipline Problem Employees

By on June 3, 2015 in Current Events with 12 Comments

A recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) says that a “culture of complacency” among agency management is leading to a myriad of employee related problems regarding time and attendance controls, viewing pornography on government computers, real property management, and taking prompt action against employees.

The report cited specific instances in which the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to take prompt action on previous OIG reports of employee misconduct. It described the incidents as follows:

  • In June 2013, our Office of Investigations determined that an EPA senior executive employee failed to adequately oversee another EPA employee’s travel vouchers and time and attendance, as the person’s responsibilities required. Our investigation revealed that the senior executive approved or authorized the approval of fraudulent time and attendance and travel vouchers for this EPA employee from 2000 to 2010. A Report of Investigation was submitted to the Office of Air and Radiation on April 17, 2014, and the senior executive employee retired on February 28, 2015, without administrative action ever being taken.
  • In December 2013, a Report of Investigation was issued to the Office of Administration and Resources Management concerning a senior executive employee who, the investigation found, had engaged in private business activities during official work time and misused government property. During the period of the investigation, this employee received a Presidential Meritorious Rank Award for $33,928. In November 2014, approximately 11 months after we issued the Report of Investigation, the EPA issued a Notice of Proposed Removal of the employee. The employee has been on paid administrative leave since November 2014 and is appealing the decision.
  • In November 2013 and May 2014, respectively, EPA management was made aware that two EPA employees, in two separate cases, were viewing and downloading pornography on EPA computers during work hours. The investigations disclosed that the employees spent approximately 1 to 6 hours a day viewing and downloading pornography. On March 24, 2015, both employees received a Notice of Proposed Removal from the EPA for the misconduct. One employee retired and the other is appealing the decision and remains on paid administrative leave.

This latest OIG report notes that it has taken the EPA, on average, almost 200 days to initiate disciplinary action when EPA policies required action within 30 days of an OIG Report of Investigation.

The OIG also said that while EPA has made progress, more work remains to be done:

While the EPA is making progress, the agency needs to continue to confront this culture of complacency. Failure to do so could seriously affect agency resources, impacting the ability of the agency to achieve its mission and goals. Additionally, the EPA also needs to increase supervision over computer misuse to prevent unauthorized access attempts and inappropriate misuse, as well as verify results and accomplishments achieved during telework.

The OIG also said in its report that one office within the EPA has actually impeded its investigations. According to the report:

EPA’s Office of Homeland Security continues to impede the OIG by withholding critical information about a variety of activities it conducts—or information it possesses— about matters within OIG purview. EPA’s Office of Homeland Security fails to refer certain information to the OIG. Among these matters are employee misconduct, cyber intrusions, and matters which the Office of Homeland Security defines as “intelligence” or national security information, even though OIG employees have the requisite security clearances for access to that information. In addition, EPA’s Office of Homeland Security continues to employ one or more criminal investigators, armed with firearms, despite the fact that the office has no authority to engage in law enforcement or investigations.

The problems the EPA had with its employees viewing pornography for hours a day at work on government computers made headlines when the news first broke, and it led to Congress introducing legislation intended to put a stop to it. See Bill Would Ban Federal Employees From Watching Porn at Work. The latest action on this legislation was that it passed a House committee. At this time it appears unlikely this bill will pass and be signed into law.

The complete report from the EPA’s inspector general is included below.

FY 2015 EPA Management Challenges

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce. Ian also has a background in web development and does the technical work for the FedSmith.com web site and its sibling sites.

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