EPA watchdog finds 'no indications of bias' against conservatives

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) internal watchdog found "no indications of bias" after reviewing claims the agency waived public records fees for green groups but not conservative organizations.

The inspector general report comes nearly one year after GOP lawmakers accused the EPA of a double standard when reviewing fee waivers for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, likening the allegations to the IRS's targeting of conservative groups. 

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To compile the report issued Wednesday, the inspector general reviewed 1,077 FOIA fee waiver denials by the EPA, from 2009 to June 2013, and 475 requests. 

The report says there were only six instances where the inspector general would have granted a fee waiver that the EPA did not, and denied 17 that were approved based on a lack of information in the request letters. 

The EPA "consistently" followed the six factors used by departments across the agency and other organizations, the report states.

The IG report adds, however, that the agency "could improve its process."

Over 71 percent of the EPA’s fee waiver decisions that were reviewed took longer than the agency's goal of 20 business days, the report states. The report recommends that the EPA examine and address the reasons behind the wide gap in response times for fee waiver requests.

The inspector general’s report split with the agency over whether applicants had provided enough information to prove that their request would "significantly" contribute to public understanding. 

To clear up the issue, the report recommends the agency clarify what classifies as "significant."

In its response to the report, the EPA stressed that 20-day response times were an outlier and that the agency on average would provide a decision on fee waiver requests in 12 days.

The EPA did agree with the inspector general's recommendation that it examine and address the spread in its response time, adding that it will work to fix the issue by no later than the spring of 2015.