EPA Criminal Investigators Continue Exodus

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EPA Criminal Investigators Continue Exodus

Special Agent Level Falls Below Statutory Minimum but CID Offers No Explanation

Washington, DC —The Environmental Protection Agency’s troubled criminal enforcement program continues to hemorrhage special agents, according to official figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  In 2011 for the second year in a row, more special agents from the EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) voluntarily left CID than took mandatory retirement.

CID began the 2011 Fiscal Year with fewer than the 200 agents required by the U.S. Pollution Prosecution Act of 1990 and ended the year further short-handed.  Despite new agent hires, departures via transfer and resignation keep EPA short of meeting Obama administration pledges to reach the 200-agent level.

As a result, special agent staffing has not returned to pre-Bush levels.  Similarly, anti-pollution enforcement has never regained Clinton–era numbers, according to Department of Justice statistics.

Despite the loss of the hefty public investment in training new white collar criminal investigators, CID has no analysis of whether special agents are leaving the agency more quickly after initial training than in previous years, according to Freedom of Information Act response provided to PEER.  Moreover, the agency refuses to release summaries of agent exit interviews or the results of a 2011 “Bottom-Up” survey of agents, supervisors and managers which participants described as very critical of CID leadership.

“CID agents are voting no-confidence with their feet on a leadership which appears utterly indifferent,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.  “Complex corporate pollution prosecutions requiring months, if not years, of investigation require stable agent assignments – not a Merry-Go-Round.”

In recent years, CID has been engulfed in turmoil.  An internal review in 2010 found that “personnel abuse” and “unreasonable management behavior” within CID had caused a “significant loss of talented staff.”   Low morale was confirmed in both an internal survey and another survey conducted by PEER.

The 2010 internal review recommended a series of actions including suspending all pending disciplinary proceedings, reviewing human resources and internal affairs operations and adopting new diversity and communications practices.  It does not appear that any of these steps have been taken.  In fact, after reassigning them CID restored the same managers who drew agent complaints for heavy-handed policies.

“Special agents are simply looking to do their jobs with a modicum of support rather than a rash of interference from their own management,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state environmental enforcement attorney, who continues to hear complaints from CID agents that internal conditions are worsening.  “The pressure of these jobs is magnified by supervisory abuse.  These highly-trained investigators have career options beyond CID and are, unfortunately, demonstrating it.”

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