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Playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ at the EPA

The federal Environmental Protection Agency appears to be unable to monitor its own affairs, much less those of others.

Published on January 2, 2014 9:10AM

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press

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So, did you here the one about the Environmental Protection Agency employee? He was the guy who missed 2 1/2 years of work and was still on the payroll, collecting a 25 percent bonus on top of his $100,000-plus salary.

Yep, he was the guy who flew first class and spent $1,100 a night on hotels in London, almost triple the amount authorized.

He even said he needed a special parking space because of malaria he contracted in the Vietnam War, even though he’d never served there.

And here’s the kicker: One of the reasons he got away with it for 10 years was he said he was a spy. The other reason: The EPA’s top managers were asleep at the switch.

It’s hard to judge how things work in the EPA. The agency has lots of secret corners. Like the secret email accounts some of the higher-ups used to keep the public’s business out of sight and the closed-door meetings EPA officials held to discuss air regulations.

Maybe there’s a good reason for that secrecy. Would you want it to get out that an EPA official likened himself to a Roman general who “crucified” people to keep others in line? The administrator of EPA’s Dallas office resigned in 2012 over just such a comment.

We have John C. Beale to thank for opening the door to some of the inner workings of the EPA. He was the senior policy advisor in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and pleaded guilty to the theft of government property in September. He agreed to pay almost $1.4 million in restitution and penalties and is expected to spend time in prison, according to the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General and court records.

A lawyer who was well-thought-of for his work on amendments to the Clean Air Act, Beale worked 24 years at the EPA. For the last 13 years, though, he played “Where’s Waldo” with his supervisors. According to court records, for years he took many Wednesdays off to work for the CIA. Then, in 2008, he took six months off and didn’t tell anyone where he was. Then, from June 2011 to December 2012, he never showed up at work, saying he was working for the CIA.

That’s one excuse less audacious employees would never try. He also tapped the EPA for first class airfare, even for six trips worth $45,094 to California to visit his family.

As an aside — since when do federal employees fly first class? Remember, this is a government that borrowed $680 billion this year just to keep the lights on. In the past four years it borrowed over $5 trillion. One would think travel would be closely scrutinized and first class airfare would never be allowed.

But that’s probably just us. You see, in the private sector, where performance matters, employees are expected to work for their paychecks and to be held responsible for their actions. When employees fail to show up for work — or lie about being spies — they are fired. And it doesn’t take 13 years to figure it out.

For the record, the EPA has 16,204 employees, plus one spy. The agency is known for sticking it to farmers and ranchers and others who are believed to violate federal environmental laws. But even the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the agency over stepped its authority when it didn’t allow an Idaho couple to challenge a wetlands ruling for their building lot.

We do not expect perfection from the ­EPA or any other federal agency. But we do expect good-faith efforts to do the best job for the American people — who are footing the bill — and to cultivate an atmosphere of openness. In the Beale case and others, that has not happened.


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