- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

The investigative arm of the Environmental Protection Agency is being crippled by the dismissal of its only investigator and proposed rules to limit future investigations, according to an internal agency memo obtained by The Washington Times.

In perhaps a sign of growing confusion at the nation's top environmental agency in the waning days of the Clinton presidency, Robert Martin, ombudsman for the EPA, has put a hold on all investigations of mismanagement at hazardous waste cleanup sites requested by members of Congress.

The investigator, Hugh Kaufman, was relieved of his duties Dec. 15. Mr. Kaufman was the leading critic of the EPA and exposed numerous cover-ups at Superfund sites, embarrassing the agency.

"In view of reported recent personnel transfers and pending implementation of EPA ombudsman guidelines, both of which are beyond my control as national ombudsman, all schedules for all national ombudsman cases have been put on hold and/or delayed until further notice," Mr. Martin said in the memo issued Friday.

"I will communicate with you as soon as I have received clear and consistent direction from EPA management, which will allow me to develop definitive schedules for performing work on all the pending national ombudsman cases," Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Kaufman was reassigned by Tim Fields, a Clinton appointee heading the EPA Superfund program who said the decision was not retaliatory but based on job performance.

Mr. Kaufman predicted that his reassignment was the first step in putting a stop to the investigations "that basically embarrassed the entrenched bureaucracy and Clinton/Gore politicos because they were not doing their jobs."

The proposed new guidelines governing the investigative power of the ombudsman were published Jan. 3 in the Federal Register and will take effect after the public-comment period closes March 5.

Mr. Kaufman said the new rules effectively kill the ombudsman's investigative functions.

"The new guidelines will mean the ombudsman cannot even select his own cases, the bureaucrats will decide whether they will allow the ombudsman to investigate them and it shuts down the public process," Mr. Kaufman said.

Many Western senators also are critical of the proposed guidelines, which they say are "troubling."

Sen. Michael D. Crapo and Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republicans, and Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican, wrote the agency Wednesday asking that the guidelines be deferred indefinitely.

The proposed rules raise "concerns that the integrity, function and independence of the ombudsman office may be jeopardized," the senators said.

"We feel it is imperative that the office be allowed to function independently," they said.

Mr. Kaufman said the new guidelines also would prohibit the sharing of government documents with elected officials, which was the case when Mr. Allard requested an investigation of the Shattuck Chemical cleanup in Denver.

Mr. Allard was denied access to documents that Mr. Kaufman eventually uncovered. The documents showed waste in the radioactive burial site was leaking into the Platte River, and once exposed, the EPA agreed to move the Superfund site.

Mr. Allard said he hopes the incoming Bush administration will "establish a positive relationship with the ombudsman program and not put it at risk, which is what happened with this administration."

Under the new guidelines, Mr. Kaufman said, "the people being investigated will have control over whether they are allowed to be investigated, how you will investigate them and they will not allow you to communicate with the public sector or Congress, who asked for the investigation in the first place."

"It is classic bureaucratic smoke and mirrors," Mr. Kaufman said.

Mr. Allard warned the agency against moving too quickly to put the new rules in place before the Clinton administration leaves town.

"I would hope they would not try and do anything to the ombudsman's office with a new administration coming in," Mr. Allard said.

The 20 investigations put on hold are administered under the Superfund Act and Resource Conservation Recovery Act focusing on cleanup sites located in Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Indiana and Washington state.


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