- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

The Environmental Protection Agency and the office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms have yet to explain the $14 million cost of ridding the Hart Senate Office Building of anthrax spores, but yesterday the two agencies quelled requests from investigators by saying they're "working" on it.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, on Monday asked the agencies to have a list of all private firms involved in the Hart Building's decontamination on his desk by the close of business yesterday or he would seek a broader probe into the contracts.

But late yesterday Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said, "The EPA and the Sergeant at Arms both say they're working on responding to my request for information on the cost of the Hart Building cleanup."

In letters to the Sergeant at Arms and EPA Administrator Christie Whitman, Mr. Grassley also had requested an explanation of which funds were allocated from which agency budgets to pay for the cleanup. In addition, he asked to see copies of contracts between the EPA and other government agencies that spelled out who ultimately would pay for the rising cost of the cleanup.

"I want to be reasonable and give them an adequate amount of time to respond before taking further action," Mr. Grassley told The Washington Times yesterday. "The more complete their response, the more informative it'll be for the taxpayers."

The EPA spent nearly $150,000 a day through December to hire private contractors for experimental chemical fumigation of areas in the Hart Building known to be contaminated with anthrax spores.

If it turns out money has been spent wrongly, it will be "a bit like exposing the $600 toilet seat in the Defense Department," Mr. Grassley, who uncovered the infamous expenditure during the mid-1980s, said earlier in the week.

On Wednesday, he threatened that if he didn't get an answer to his questions by yesterday he would urge EPA Ombudsman Robert J. Martin to begin investigating the contracts.

Mr. Martin on Wednesday began his own investigation of the EPA's handling of the cleanup effort, asking for proof that substantial testing was done on the air inside the building before the use of toxic chlorine dioxide gas to kill anthrax.

"Maybe they've got something to hide," said Hugh Kaufman, Mr. Martin's chief investigator. "This is getting to be an [modus operandi] of Christie Whitman's EPA as it relates to toxic cases. When in doubt, stonewall."

The Hart Building includes offices for half the U.S. Senate's 100 members.

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