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EDITORIAL: The nonessential spy
How an EPA officer took the agency for a million-dollar swindle
The phrase “nonessential personnel” re-entered the lexicon during last month’s government shutdown as 800,000 of these lucky people were rewarded with an unexpected paid vacation. Two free weeks off is nice, but this “government service” pales in comparison to the laid-back lifestyle at the Environmental Protection Agency, where an employee can miss 2 years of work without anyone noticing.
In 2001, John C. Beale took one day a week off from his job as an environmental regulator by telling his boss a tale of his important work as a spy. In 2008, he went “undercover” for six months on an imaginary mission for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations. Again in June 2011, he disappeared for nearly 18 months. He figured no one would notice, and nobody did. Nor did anyone take the time to verify his life as Bond, James Bond.
While lollygagging in the south of France with imaginary beauties, dispatching evildoers or whatever work he was “assigned” as a “spy,” Beale was paid as if he were still at his desk spinning pages of red tape to save the snail darter, the red-billed nematode and the blue-crested thrip, or whatever. The EPA paid about $80,000 for trips to California, usually first class. Relaxing in London, he stayed in a $1,000-a-night hotel at government expense. Nice work if you can get it, and at the Environmental Protection Agency you can apparently get it if you try.
Beale was otherwise on the clock at home, working in the yard, riding his bicycle and lying around in his pajamas reading books, no doubt the works of John Le Carre and Eric Ambler. For this meritorious service, he collected bonus upon bonus. The EPA even gave him a handicap-parking sticker when he made up another story about contracting malaria on a spy mission.
All good things come to an end. After someone ratted him out, Beale admitted defrauding the government. Under a plea deal, he will spend three years in prison and have to pay back — if he can — $1.4 million in unearned salary and fines.
Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana demands the White House intervene to stop that. In a stern letter to Office of Personnel Management sent Tuesday, the Republican senator demanded to know why Beale is getting an inflated pension. “It’s hard to believe,” wrote Mr. Vitter, “that the circus surrounding EPA’s complete mismanagement of Beale and his years of flagrant deception is continuing to escalate. It is outrageous that the law entitles Beale to any portion of his federal pension. At the very minimum, he should not receive anything more than what the law requires.”
The EPA paid Beale $500,000 in “retention” bonuses, presumably to prevent the secret agent from defecting to a rival spy agency. This generosity put him well over the legal cap for federal employee pay. That’s a big deal, since federal retirement benefits are based on the “high three” average of his annual salary over three years, and the agency counted the 2 years when he was away from the office, presumably at the beach with Mata Hari’s great-granddaughter.
The EPA inspector general found evidence of fraud dating from 23 years, but federal prosecutors narrowed the scope to just 13 years. Beale is the definition of “nonessential personnel,” but he’ll be out of prison in a matter of months and available for another gig as the nonessential spy.
About the Author
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