Oversight rips EPA on employee misconduct

Oversight rips EPA on employee misconduct

The House Oversight Committee on Thursday launched a bipartisan assault on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employee misconduct, criticizing delays on firing employees accused of sexual harassment and watching pornography on the job.

One employee who was accused of sexually harassing 17 women, including two at the White House, was allowed to stay on the job and eventually retire before talking to investigators, officials from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) told the committee. Two others were accused of viewing pornography at work, including one who was witnessed by a child, but they, too, remained on the payroll for several months.

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“The EPA and others, we have a duty and obligation to the American taxpayer to fire the people who are abusing the system," Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzDem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Chaffetz replacement sworn in as House member Democrats expand House map after election victories MORE (R-Utah) said. "Get rid of them, kick them out of there.”

One of the women allegedly harassed by EPA employee Peter Jutro was a supervisor who was considering him for a new position. When she reported the harassment to a higher-up, Jutro was not disciplined, OIG officials testified, and he was eventually given the job.

The agency didn’t take actions against him until last August, when he was suspended for harassing a Smithsonian intern. The OIG found 16 other instances of harassment involving Jutro, but when officials attempted to interview him for their investigation in January, he retired instead.

EPA officials acknowledged that they didn’t follow up with the supervisors to whom the complaints were made. But Stanley Meiburg, EPA’s acting deputy administrator, said the administration took “swift action” against Jutro once the incident with the intern was reported, including referring the information to the OIG.

That wasn’t enough for members of the committee.

“I want you to do your job,” Chaffetz said. “I want you to fire these people that are sexually harassing people at work.”

The committee also looked into incidents of EPA employees watching pornography while on the job.

In some cases, said ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the system worked. In 2013, an employee admitted to viewing child porn while at work. He was suspended immediately, fired after an internal investigation and eventually criminally charged and sentenced to prison time.

But others stayed on the job even after admitting their viewing habits. One former employee said he watched pornography up to six hours a day; another admitted viewing porn after he was seen doing so by a child who was at the office for Bring Your Daughter or Son to Work Day.

OIG officials investigated both incidents and alerted the U.S. attorney. The employees involved were placed on paid administrative leave, but neither was fired for several months. One is still on leave, and the other is retired.

“It is our general practice to not pursue an administrative action while a criminal investigation is ongoing,” Meiburg said.

But EPA administrators and OIG officials tangled over whether or not they needed to wait until a legal investigation was over to take action. Patrick Sullivan, an assistant inspector general the OIG, said the U.S. attorney’s office had told the agency it could pursue internal actions against those employees during its investigation.

Cummings said the agency needs to clean up the confusion. He set an end of May deadline for the agency and the OIG to develop a better coordination plan for dealing with employee misconduct.

“Something is missing, and we are better than this,” Cummings said to the administrators. “We are so much better, and if you can’t do the job, you need to let someone else in there to do it.”

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency moved quickly to remove Jutro from his position when they learned about the incident with the Smithsonian intern.

"At the time Mr. Jutro was placed on detail, deciding officials did check references and inquire into past performance. However, at that time, his pattern of misconduct was not revealed to them," Purchia said in a statement. "Importantly, the Inspector General 's report 'did not substantiate any violation of duty by any senior official.'"