- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Environmental Protection Agency spends more than $5.1 million a year to lease partially filled warehouse space stocked with items the agency doesn’t even keep track of, according to a critical internal review released this week.

The EPA Office of Inspector General found thousands of square feet in unused storage space in warehouses the EPA leases in Washington, D.C., and nearby Landover, Maryland, according to a Dec. 8 report. By simply consolidating the contents of these two partially filled warehouses into one location, the report found, the EPA could save taxpayers $360,000 a year.

What’s more, EPA officials can’t even say what’s stored in the facilities, the report found, routinely neglecting to perform required inventories. Warehouse workers complain that the agency sends conflicting messages about how to inventory property and lacks uniform requirements.

For failing to use the warehouse space and mismanaging the property purchased with tax dollars it stores at those facilities, the EPA earns this week’s Golden Hammer, presented weekly by the Washington Times to highlight examples of government waste, fraud and abuse of public money.

“There’s been a troubling amount of bad news coming out of this agency, and this report is one of those glaring examples of mismanagement,” said William Yeatman, a senior fellow at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute. “It appears as if this agency can’t manage it’s way out of a paper bag, and given the tsunami of responsibility it has, that’s troubling.”

Nanci Gelb, the acting assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management, said in a written response that she concurred with the inspector general’s findings and agreed to its recommendations. The agency declined further comment to The Washington Times.

Among other findings, the inspector general report found that the EPA did not efficiently use warehouse space at 38 percent of the facilities reviewed, and that half of the warehouses it inspected had items in stock that could have been purchased locally or didn’t fulfill an immediate need.

The EPA‘s practices have “impaired [the agency‘s] ability to safeguard property against theft, loss, waste and mismanagement,” the inspector general investigators wrote.

Failure to track what property the agency already had in storage played a role in wasting nearly $172,000 “on property [the agency] ended up giving away because there was no use for it,” the report’s authors noted.

The filing problems led to further waste: EPA staffers spent $500 purchasing letterhead paper in May 2013, when two pallets filled with boxes of paper with the very same letterhead sat on the shelves just a few miles away collecting dust, the inspector general report found.

The latest report comes on the heels of a damning March analysis, also by the inspector general, that found the EPA‘s Cincinnati warehouse wasted $1.5 million in contractor costs and leased warehouse space storing excess publications. Inspectors noted that the agency maintained a stockpile of more than 18 million publications and marketing items, despite shipping fewer than 3 million publications annually.

As a result, mountains of surplus publications became outdated and worthless.

Inspectors noted that “the EPA staff seemed to indicate an attitude of, ‘Let’s store all items regardless,’ instead of, ‘Let’s store items that we can control.’ In addition, there were no policies to prevent long-term storage of items acquired by the EPA in an excess amount or that did not satisfy an immediate need. As a result, the EPA did not communicate costs associated with storing property, hindering effective management decisions for warehouse and property management.”

In response to an early warning of the report released in May, the EPA said it tallied the dollar value of the furniture at the Landover facility, conducted inventory management training for its staff, and reviewed and disposed of unneeded records. As a result, the EPA sold $10,000 worth of unneeded stored furniture in August and released three holding bays of about 40,000 square feet that cost $442,000 a year within that facility.

“The deputy administrator also ordered an agency-wide review of all warehouses and storage facilities, as well as a review of agency employee actions, for potential performance failures and necessary disciplinary actions,” the inspector general report said in its “noteworthy achievements” section of the December report.

In regards to its facilities in Landover and Cincinnati, where the most egregious violations were found, Ms. Gelb told the inspector general auditors the agency “will issue guidance to EPA senior resource officials implementing your recommendations related to their warehouse operations.”

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