Washington, DC —Turmoil engulfing the criminal enforcement program of the Environmental Protection Agency this past year occasioned a record exodus of special agents, according to official figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In 2010 for the first time, more special agents voluntarily transferred away from the EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) than took mandatory retirement.
CID agents conduct investigations into corporate environmental crimes. An internal review in 2010 found that “personnel abuse” and “unreasonable management behavior” within CID had caused a “significant loss of talented staff.” Turnover numbers obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act bear out this conclusion. In 2010, ten special agents transferred to work in other federal programs and another four resigned – a departure of agents significantly higher than in any other recent year.
Agent dissatisfaction with program management is still smoldering, according to anecdotal reports from agents received by PEER. Among the factors driving departures are –
- Restoration of the same managers who drew complaints from agents for heavy-handed policies;
- An obtuse approach by upper management which has yet to explain whether it will implement steps recommended by last year’s internal review. In a transmittal letter to PEER, a senior EPA official said that “we do not have documents describing the actions taken” to carry out the reforms; and
- Continuation of seemingly arbitrary actions in which abusive managers are held harmless.
“It looks like the eco-cops are fleeing the beat,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch noting that the cadre of CID agents had fallen to 154 in 2010, well below Bush administration levels, but the Obama administration has pledged to hike the force to more than 200 agents. “We are losing the significant public investment in training these specialized white collar criminal investigators.”
The 2010 internal assessment proposed a number of actions including suspending all pending disciplinary proceedings, re-training managers, reviewing current human resources and internal affairs operations and adopting new diversity and communications practices. Based upon the PEER Freedom of Information Act request, it does not appear that any of these recommendations have been adopted.
“High turnover among agents makes complex corporate crime cases harder to prosecute,” said Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state environmental enforcement attorney, pointing out that the majority of CID cases referred for federal prosecution are declined by the Justice Department. “The vigorous and effective enforcement against pollution crimes needed to protect our environment will be impeded if our criminal investigation branch remains a house divided.”