- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 14, 2002

ASSOCIATED PRESS

An Environmental Protection Agency watchdog lacks the autonomy needed to do his job, and the agency should restore some of his independence, says a congressional report released yesterday.

EPA Administrator Christie Whitman put the ombudsman's office under the supervision of the department's inspector general in April.

The ombudsman at the time, Robert Martin, resigned, saying Mrs. Whitman was retaliating against him for challenging EPA decisions and his office was being stripped of its authority.

The report by the General Accounting Office, the auditing arm of Congress, reiterates those concerns.

The GAO noted that the ombudsman does not have control over his own budget and lacks the authority to decide what complaints warrant investigation.

Unlike ombudsmen in other federal agencies, the EPA ombudsman reports to the inspector general, rather than directly to the highest levels of the agency, and does not have the independence consistent with professional standards for ombudsmen, the report said.

The GAO recommended that the EPA reconsider its placement of the ombudsman in the inspector general's office.

"The GAO's report only reinforces my concerns that the relocation of the ombudsman's office will result in a loss of independence and a loss of community input into environmental cleanups," Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said in a statement. Mrs. DeGette had requested the GAO study.

She said she would continue to push for legislation that would make the EPA ombudsman office independent.

EPA Assistant Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko wrote that the inspector general's office or OIG is the best place for the ombudsman.

"The OIG has an excellent track record of objectively evaluating interests and has extensively trained technical staff that will support the ombudsman's expanded scope of work," Mrs. Horinko wrote.

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