The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
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EPA Criminal Program Reforms Coming Undone

Restoration of Removed Managers Risks Renewed Exodus of Special Agents


Less than three months after shaking up the
leadership of its troubled criminal enforcement program in order to
"improve communication and management", the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency is bringing back the same controversial managers it
had just removed, according to documents posted today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This reversal
threatens to spark resumption of the ruinous turnover that has plagued
EPA's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), the unit charged with
investigating major pollution and other eco-crimes.

Following a scathing consultant report about escalating turmoil within
CID, Assistant Administrator for Enforcement Cynthia Giles announced in
an October 19, 2010 memo that CID Director Becky Barnes was immediately
reassigned; her superior, Director of the Office of Criminal
Enforcement, Forensics & Training (OCEFT) was retiring; plus three
other top level departures and transfers. That report found -

  • A pattern of "personnel abuses, including a workplace of fear,
    divisiveness, low morale [which] may have resulted in a significant loss
    of talented staff";
  • Excessive use of disciplinary actions resulted from "unchecked"
    and "unreasonable management behavior." The report 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; and
  • CID is split into "two camps... one of HQ managers and SACs
    [Special Agents-in-Charge] and the other of [field] agents and other

These findings paralleled those of a PEER
survey of CID special agents also released in October, most prominently a
widespread fear of job retaliation by management (71%); poor morale
(87%); and a pervasive belief that management does not listen to field
agents (75%). Not surprisingly, several CID agents have reported their
extreme consternation to PEER over end-of year personnel moves,
including -

  • Becky Barnes, who had been removed as CID Director, returning as
    Assistant Director for OCEFT, the parent organization, making the move a
    functional promotion;
  • Doug Parker, detailed away from his position as CID Deputy
    Director, as acting Deputy Director of OCEFT, another functional
    promotion; and
  • Restoration of the human resources attorney responsible for what
    one agent called a "reign of terror" of disciplinary actions,
    excruciating evaluation exercises and internal investigations.

"It appears that a palace counter-revolt
snuffed out the promise of reforming EPA's criminal enforcement
program," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, who is attempting to
determine ongoing turnover rates within CID and what is being done to
increase retention of experienced investigators. "This is not just
about a 'screw-up-and-move-up' culture inside EPA. Allowing these
dysfunctional conditions to fester threatens to cripple our main defense
against criminal corporate pollution practices."

In September, PEER called attention to
record low numbers of CID agents in the field and declining numbers of
cases referred for federal prosecution - a disclosure which prompted a
vow by AA Giles to add 40 new CID agents by the end of 2010. While new
agents are needed, steady loss of seasoned agents disrupts complex
multi-year investigations while lowering overall efficiency and
effectiveness of a unit already plagued by lack of clear investigative
focus and management disarray.

"After admitting severe breakdowns in
communication and trust, bringing back the same managers who fostered
this 'upstairs-downstairs' organizational conflict sends precisely the
wrong message if EPA wants to keep agents from bailing," Ruch added.
"Taxpayers have a big investment in training these specialized
white-collar criminal investigators."

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.