EPA Axes Leadership of Criminal Division
Shakeup Follows Investigator Reports of Abuse, “Arrogant and Harsh” Treatment
Washington, DC — Top officials overseeing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s criminal enforcement program have been handed their walking papers, according to a memo posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Their ouster follows mounting complaints by special agent investigators within the agency’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID), which is charged with investigating major pollution and other environmental offenses.
In a memo dated October 19, 2010 but distributed yesterday to CID agents, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Cynthia Giles announced that CID Director Becky Barnes is immediately reassigned while her superior, Fred Burnside, the Director of the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics & Training, is retiring. AA Giles named acting replacements and released an internal review which found that –
- “Personnel abuse” within CID had caused a “significant loss of talented staff”; and
- Excessive use of disciplinary actions resulted from “unchecked” and “unreasonable management behavior.” The review cited 37 completed or pending disciplinary actions taken among a cadre of only 154 field agents, according to a tabulation of active agents by PEER.
The review recommended suspending all ongoing disciplinary actions within CID and subjecting any future actions to higher level review. While distancing herself from some of the review’s findings, Ms. Giles promised to implement changes to enhance communication and accountability. She also released a survey conducted among CID by the Office of Personnel Management which concluded that “Employees are more satisfied with their jobs than with the organization.”
“We applaud Assistant Administrator Giles for taking the first big steps toward rehabilitating EPA’s criminal enforcement program,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Giles also pledged to hire 40 more CID agents after PEER pointed out plummeting force levels. “This is one of the few instances where Obama administration appointees have rolled up their sleeves to do the gritty work needed to start changing agency culture.”
Notably, recommendations from an earlier internal review on how to sharpen investigative focus within CID and bring more corporate prosecutions were “outside the scope” of this latest review which related primarily to internal disciplinary and performance issues.
“The next step is to provide investigators with the tools and support they need to do their jobs,” Ruch added, referring to results of a PEER survey of CID agents in which most respondents felt the criminal program is weaker now than during the Bush administration and headed in the wrong direction. “The ultimate measure of success will be whether EPA can win more convictions in bigger cases so that pollution fines are no longer a tolerable cost of doing business.”