- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2014

A government investigator will tell Congress this week how her probe into an Environmental Protection Agency office was obstructed by top agency officials including the current agency chief.

Elisabeth Heller Drake, a special agent for the EPA's Office of Inspector General, is set to testify to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday about a routine attempt to talk to an EPA official last fall that ended in her filing an assault complaint.

The Washington Times has obtained a copy of Ms. Drake’s written testimony submitted in advance to the committee for Wednesday’s hearing.

“He repeatedly jabbed his finger at me, merely inches from my chest, and as he got more aggressive, his complexion heated, his veins bulged and he began to sweat profusely,” Ms. Drake said, referring to her encounter with Steve Williams, an adviser in the EPA’s homeland security office.

The hearing comes as Republicans have raised questions about the EPA’s own internal watchdog and whether the agency is allowing it free rein to do its job.

Ms. Drake had gone to the EPA’s homeland security office to remind another official not to discuss the details of an ongoing investigation, but the official refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Mr. Williams intervened, according to Ms. Drake.

“If an individual had acted this way toward me as a federal agent on the street, I might have arrested him,” she said.

“But it shocked me to be approached in this manner by what appeared to be a high-ranking EPA official. While Mr. Williams is not a large man, his inexplicable anger and aggressiveness in this professional office setting managed to leave me feeling intimidated.”

The nature of the investigation that brought Ms. Drake into the office isn’t clear based on her statement, but days later, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy sent a letter about the “apparent confrontation” and asked Inspector General Arthur Elkins to “temporarily halt its review” until the EPA’s chief lawyer could speak with the IG and to Juan Reyes, the EPA’s acting associate administrator.

EPA officials declined to comment last week, but provided a memo written that EPA’s deputy administrator, Bob Perciasepe, wrote to Mr. Elkins earlier this year questioning whether the IG even had review powers over the homeland security office.

The IG maintains it is responsible for investigating fraud and misconduct throughout EPA.

Ms. Drake said her initial investigation remains stalled, more than six months later, yet Mr. Williams remains on the job.

And she said Ms. McCarthy, who was sworn in as the new EPA administrator last year, appeared to go beyond the law when she issued the stand-down request.

“As my attorney and I told the administrator’s staff, we know of no exemption in the law that says an agency head can halt an official OIG investigation so long as it’s done to encourage investigators and their targets to get along better with each other,” Ms. Drake said.

Ms. Drake, through her attorney, declined to comment to The Times.

The EPA IG isn’t alone in worrying about its ability to monitor the agency it’s charged with policing.

Housing and Urban Development Inspector General David Montoya told a congressional panel earlier this year that Elliot Mincberg, an assistant secretary at HUD who previously was a top lawyer for House Democrats, tried to thwart a probe into whether agency officials broke lobbying laws.

At the time, officials declined to comment on whether he faced any disciplinary sanctions.

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