- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Independent federal investigators concluded there is no basis for an ombudsman's claims that Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman had a conflict of interest in three large-scale cleanups, including the World Trade Center.
The report by the EPA inspector general's office, a copy of which was obtained last night by the Associated Press, concludes "the allegations were not substantiated, criminal prosecution was declined, and thus, no further investigation is warranted in this matter."
Investigators from the EPA and the Justice Department spent seven months looking into claims by former EPA ombudsman Robert Martin and his senior aide, Hugh Kaufman, that Mrs. Whitman had a personal financial interest influencing decisions at the cleanup in New York and two Superfund toxic-waste sites, Shattuck Chemical Co. in Denver and Marjol Battery and Equipment Co. in Throop, Pa.
Mr. Martin and Mr. Kaufman had charged that Mrs. Whitman crafted deals benefiting Citigroup, which had a financial interest in the cleanup projects. Her husband, John, worked for Citigroup and had stock holdings in the company.
"I'm pleased that the inspector general conducted such a thorough investigation," Mrs. Whitman said. "As both governor and EPA administrator, upholding the highest ethical standard has always been of utmost importance to me. This report confirms that fact."
The inspector general's report was released late last night, several hours after the General Accounting Office testified before two subcommittees of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the ombudsman's office would lose its independence under an EPA reorganization plan being pushed by Mrs. Whitman.
"An effective ombudsman must have both actual and apparent independence from any person who may be the subject of a complaint or inquiry," said John B. Stephenson, who directs environmental inquiries by Congress' investigative arm, the General Accounting Office.
The GAO last year recommended that the EPA move the ombudsman out of the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, with a separate budget and staff.
The ombudsman's job includes responding to complaints about the Superfund, a program responsible for cleaning up abandoned hazardous waste that threatens human health or the environment.
Mrs. Whitman moved the office into the EPA inspector general's office, but Mr. Martin resigned in April rather than work there. He said he would lose his authority.
Mr. Martin testified yesterday that "a new and disturbing chapter emerged in the story when EPA Administrator Whitman dissolved the independent national ombudsman function. An ombudsman should be entirely independent of the agency that it investigates."
The GAO's Mr. Stephenson told the panels that the EPA should clarify its intentions since the reorganization would result in an ombudsman who "will not be able to exercise independent control over budget and staff resources."
The ombudsman also will "lack authority to independently select and prioritize cases that warrant investigation," he said.

Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times contributed to this report.

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