- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On the day it unveiled sweeping new rules on greenhouse gases, the Environmental Protection Agency was facing criticism Monday from its internal watchdog for failing to better monitor a research contract on climate change to ensure taxpayers get the services for which they pay.

EPA’s inspector general cited weak management and law oversight of work put in by the contractor and its employees for the climate contract, saying it raised the risk the agency paid for services which were not done.

“Given the lack of oversight, contract administration and documentation, the EPA cannot verify that the contractor provided qualified staff for the execution of the contract, which created the risk of the agency not receiving services for which it paid,” the watchdog’s report said.

Investigators found monthly invoices revealing problems with labor costs and subcontractor costs, and the EPA repeatedly modified its project cost ceiling from $310,917 to over $2 million and extended the time limit by almost three years.

The inspector general also found that the EPA did not properly manage records for the contract in question and could not verify the contractor’s qualifications to meet the requirements for the research.

“Rather than verifying contractor qualifications, EPA staff stated they relied on personal judgment and information contained in the contract,” the inspector general wrote. “A contracting officer we interviewed told us that verifying the qualifications of contracting staff billed under the contract was not required; it was the contractor’s responsibility to find qualified personnel for a given contract.”

Of the 178 employees named in the work files examined by the IG auditors, 46 lacked proper labor classifications, and investigators were unable to find resumes for 158 of the 178 employees.

The watchdog’s report also suggests that the EPA might have overpaid contractors for undocumented labor. According to the report, the contractor charged over 2,000 hours of labor and $370,765 to labor by a subcontractor that had not been approved by the EPA, which accounted for 86 percent of the labor cost.

The contractor’s representative told investigators that the company had changed names and the EPA’s records had not been modified to show the change, leading investigators to believe it had not been approved.

“When we asked why there was no modification to explain the name change, the [contracting officer’s representative] said that as long as he knew the subcontractor, the lack of documentation did not concern him,” the watchdog said.

The inspector general made several recommendations to the appropriate EPA authorities, whose responses concurred with the recommendations but did not provide complete solutions. Investigators stated that the stated issues remained unresolved.

On Thursday, the watchdog released a more broadly targeted report which found that the agency did not have the oversight capacity to ensure that climate and environmental data it was using for its policies was not “fraudulent.”

“Although the EPA has three instruments that address how to respond to instances of fraudulent data, each instrument is out of date or unimplemented. Our survey of EPA regional staff on their knowledge and use of the EPA’s fraudulent data policies and procedures found that a majority of respondents were unaware there was a policy, and approximately 50 percent expressed the need for such policies and procedures,” investigators wrote in the report.

The EPA told the watchdog that it plans to implement new procedures to screen out fraudulent data by fiscal 2017.