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Toothless EPA homeland security office bristles at oversight
Lawmakers to question its role
Question of the Day
When EPA officials began having doubts in 2012 about John Beale — a top adviser who bizarrely claimed he was missing work because he was on secret CIA spy missions — they didn’t go to the agency’s inspector general for an investigation.
The office has no law enforcement or investigative authority, according to a recent memo from the EPA inspector general.
Still, the office has its own special agent and intelligence adviser, according to the EPA website. EPA officials have suggested that the office might have powers to investigate national security matters inside the agency that the inspector general does not.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are asking about the homeland security office’s role, particularly in light of complaints from EPA and other agency inspectors general that they are facing problems with oversight.
EPA officials declined to discuss questions about the office.
A House oversight panel will hear testimony Wednesday from an investigator at the EPA inspector general’s office who said she was assaulted when she tried to ask questions last fall at the homeland security office.
Christie Todd Whitman, who as EPA administrator in 2003 created the homeland security office, said she never intended for it to be exempt from oversight by the agency’s inspector general. One of her top appointees said the office was supposed to be a “policy shop,” not a police agency.
“Gov. Whitman did not intend for the office to be held to a different standard than the rest of the agency, and thus subject to the IG,” said Heather Grizzle, spokeswoman for Ms. Whitman, a Republican who was in office from 2001 to 2003 and previously served as New Jersey governor.
Bob Bostock, who served as assistant to the administrator for homeland security at EPA under Ms. Whitman, said the office was meant to be for policy and coordination.
He said the office was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks to avoid overlap and have clear lines of accountability in coordinating with other agencies on homeland security issues.
“I suspect that in the 10-plus years, it’s probably grown beyond what we envisioned,” he said.
Indeed, records unearthed during an investigation by Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, show that the homeland security office went far beyond policy when an EPA attorney gave it the task of digging into Beale’s story in November 2012.
An intelligence officer at the homeland security office, Steve Williams, stated in a sworn statement obtained by The Washington Times that he met with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to discuss Beale in December 2012. He also said he and another official in the office contacted the CIA about Beale.
Last fall, one of the inspector general’s special agents, Elisabeth Heller Drake, stopped by on what she thought would be a routine visit to advise an employee not to discuss an ongoing investigation involving the office, according to prepared testimony she submitted to Congress.
Instead, she wrote, EPA homeland security officials refused to cooperate and Mr. Williams berated her so much that she filed an assault complaint. An affidavit was prepared for Mr. Williams’ arrest on a misdemeanor charge, but the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington declined to file charges.
“At the suggestion of the Office of the Inspector General, the EPA sought the assistance of an outside inspector general’s office to conduct an administrative investigation into the incident that occurred on October 24, 2013, and are awaiting the results of that investigation.”
Days after the incident, Ms. McCarthy requested that the inspector general’s office temporarily halt its investigation into the homeland security office. As the agency and its watchdog traded memos in what amounted to a turf dispute, the EPA’s deputy, Bob Perciasepe, argued that the inspector general’s statutory authority didn’t explicitly address its role in national security matters.
He said the EPA had a long-standing policy of relying on its homeland security office for that function, but EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said the arrangement has kept his office from investigating some misconduct.
Meanwhile, other inspector general offices have faced their own problems accessing agency records and interviews during investigations and audits.
A group of House and Senate lawmakers Monday called on the Peace Corps to turn over records to its inspector general, Kathy Buller, who testified in January about difficulty obtaining records as part of a review into training programs and sexual assault policies.
In January, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz told a House oversight panel that inspector generals’ offices shouldn’t need permission or authorization from agency heads for access to agency records and that inspector general colleagues at other agencies “have had similar issues.”
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Jim McElhatton is an investigative reporter for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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