Oversight chairman takes aim at EPA

Greg Nash

The new chairman of the House Oversight Committee has big plans to root out what he sees as pervasive and growing problems in management and overregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Rep. Jason ChaffetzJason Chaffetz41 Secret Service employees disciplined after Chaffetz leak Overnight Cybersecurity: Guccifer plea deal raises questions in Clinton probe Lawmakers: Social Security vulnerable to hackers MORE (R-Utah), who took the Oversight role from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last month, said EPA officials have been “the poster children” of federal waste, fraud and abuse, and his first hearing as chairman will try to expose the agency’s bad behavior through its internal watchdog.

“They’ve had significant, ongoing personnel issues, not isolated to just one or two people,” Chaffetz told The Hill on Monday.

“They’re also one of the most active in terms of wanting to issue new rules, but much of their top management has been just downright scandalous. And the administrator’s got to get a grip on what’s going on down there,” he said of EPA head Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyThe Clean Water Rule: One year later How Congress got to yes on toxic chemical reform Overnight Energy: Labor rift opens over green mega-donor MORE. “And so far, she hasn’t been able to do it.”

Issa started to focus on the EPA’s personnel practices in late 2013 in light of the John Beale fraud. Beale pretended to be a CIA agent while collecting an EPA paycheck and traveling on the agency’s dime.

Chaffetz aims to show that the Beale case is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the EPA’s inability to rid itself of bad employees.

Chaffetz’s first chance to show his approach will start Tuesday with a hearing at which Arthur Elkins Jr., the EPA’s inspector general, will speak about the agency’s Homeland Security Office, which Elkins said blocks his staff’s access to information.

The hearing will also include the inspectors general from the Justice Department and the Peace Corps, who say that their agencies block IG access.

“The IG Act is crystal clear,” Chaffetz said. “They are supposed to have access to the information that they need. And they have not been able to do their jobs.”

Elkins will tell lawmakers he still doesn’t have some documents he’s requested from the EPA.

“It’s significant for me that it’s my first hearing. That’s not only symbolic, but it should be a key indicator that I don’t plan to let go of it,” Chaffetz said.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia defended the agency.

“We are proud of our staff’s work every day to fulfill our mission of protecting public health and the environment. And EPA greatly values the Inspector General’s work because it helps the agency to function at its best,” she said.

Purchia said the EPA is working with its inspector general and Homeland Security Office to solve the problems.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s ranking member, also thinks Chaffetz’s accusations regarding watchdog interference are overblown.

“Significant progress has been made, and I am pleased to report that the leadership of each office appears to be in agreement about their respective roles and duties in national security-related investigations,” Cummings told Chaffetz in a letter last week.

Chaffetz said EPA oversight is a top priority, and EPA officials will be frequent guests of the committee.

“When you have such pervasive, ongoing personnel issues, it begs the question about the work product,” he said.

At a hearing last year, Elkins said an EPA employee viewed pornography for up to six hours a day at work.

But Beale and pornography are only the beginning, Chaffetz said.

“We’ve got allegations of excessive contact and comments, creating a hostile work environment, particularly for women,” he said.

“You have people on long periods of paid administrative leave that are getting paid and aren’t doing any work. They’ve got a long list of very strange and bizarre activities.”