Washington, DC–In the first employee survey conducted within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program, agency investigators report a dramatic decline in environmental enforcement, mismanagement and misuse of funds, rampant cronyism and a pervasive fear of retaliation, according to the results of a survey released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
EPA criminal investigators, special agents and attorneys surveyed by PEER overwhelmingly register a sizeable de-emphasis of anti-pollution law enforcement:
More than two of every three responding employees believe that “the emphasis that the EPA places on investigating serious environmental crime has declined,” while nearly three out of four doubt their management’s decisions are “motivated primarily by a desire to improve environmental enforcement”;
Nearly three of every four respondents cite a “decrease in resources available to investigate environmental crime during the past two years”, with more than two out of three agreeing that “new security assignments are significantly diverting resources from environmental crimes”; and
Nearly three of every four respondents say that EPA’s criminal program is not “headed in the right direction”, and fewer than one out of seven contend that “EPA’s criminal program is stronger today than it was during the Clinton Administration”.
In an accompanying essay asking how EPA’s criminal enforcement program could best be improved, one agent succinctly replied: “Concentrate on the ‘E’ in EPA.”
“EPA appears to be suffering from a bad case of Homeland Security envy,” commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, explaining that agents approached PEER requesting to conduct a referendum on the direction of the criminal program. PEER has conducted many similar surveys in federal and state agencies as a safe means for employees to bring concerns to the public’s attention. “Investigators in the field are saying that EPA’s criminal enforcement program is going badly off track–this survey reflects a resounding vote of no confidence.”
The PEER survey also reflects a broad perception of inadequate resources, yet, at the same time, many respondents see waste and inefficiency:
Nearly four out of five feel that the EPA criminal program lacks “adequate resources to perform its mission” while more than two out of three do not think their own unit “is adequately staffed to meet its workload;
Nearly one in three are “aware of serious misuse of funds in the EPA criminal program” while more than one out of three are aware of “criminal investigative resources being used to provide personal services (such as walking dogs, fetching dry cleaning, etc.) for the EPA Administrator” Christie Todd Whitman; and;
More than four out of five employees do not think the agency’s criminal program “is being well managed” or “efficiently manages the resources available to it”; more than two out of three also cite an excessive number of high grade level employees.
In accompanying essays, several employees gave examples of waste or misuse of funds. One agent stated: “The EPA CID division is in serious need of a GAO audit; somehow it has avoided the same.”
Correspondingly, employees reveal low confidence in their leadership, low morale and a deep fear of retaliation:
Fewer than one in five “have confidence in the professionalism of senior management in the EPA criminal program;
More than half “fear job retaliation for reporting improper activity” with more than a third reporting a strong fear of retaliation; and;
More than three in four say employee morale is not good, with nearly two out of three admitting a recent decline in “job satisfaction”.
One topic that drew more responses than any other was favoritism in hiring and promotions. Less than one in ten respondents disagree with the statement that these personnel decisions are “based upon personal relationships with senior program managers”. As one agent wrote,
“The CID Director doesn’t have a clue and has basically abdicated his decision making (which was never any good anyway) to a cabal of egotistical incompetents whose only interests are self-promotion. I find it hard to believe that the pond was so shallow that these appointments could have been made.”
PEER sent a questionnaire composed by agency staff members to 336 criminal investigators, special agents and attorneys throughout the U.S. More than 35 percent (120) were returned.