Washington, DC -- Stung by a critical employee survey and accounts of criminal investigators running personal errands for the Administrator, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to restructure its criminal enforcement program as recommended in a new management review, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
In the wake of negative publicity generated by the PEER survey, J. P. Suarez, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, removed the head of the criminal program this past July and ordered a management review. That review was unveiled yesterday and Suarez embraced its principal recommendations:
- Reducing non-enforcement, security assignments, such as the personal security detail for the EPA Administrator;
- Developing a coherent strategic plan for enforcement, including meaningful measures of performance; and
- Establishing consistent standards for new hires, promotions and assignments to combat widespread perceptions of cronyism.
"This management review validates concerns EPA Special Agents brought to PEER one year ago that the criminal program needed to get back to basics," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "It remains to be seen if EPA's leadership really wants effective criminal enforcement against corporate polluters or whether this latest exercise is just more window dressing."
The review found that EPA had been inflating case statistics and could not gauge whether casework resulted in meaningful enforcement -- a finding highlighted in a separate Inspector General report released this fall. It also found a disproportionate number of personnel complaints, poor internal communication and supervisors lacking even "basic environmental law" training.
In recommending a cutback in security duties, the management review cited the need to refocus on the purpose of criminal enforcement and urged that EPA "engage an independent organization with experience in Federal criminal law enforcement to conduct an audit." "All of these reviews, reports and surveys underline the need to put the ‘E' back into EPA," Ruch added.