The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Gulag EPA - Report Finds Discrimination Meltdown

Ineffective EPA Civil Rights Office “Lost Sight of Its Mission and Priorities”


A new comprehensive review blasts the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's anti-discrimination program for both employees and contractors. The review confirms reports from EPA employees to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that personnel abuses go largely unchecked to the detriment of key public health and pollution control functions.

The March 21, 2011 "Evaluation of the EPA Office of Civil Rights" by the Deloitte Consulting firm presents a sobering portrait of a deeply dysfunctional operation suffering from "dwindling credibility." Among its findings are -

  • The Office of Civil Rights lacks "the rudiments of organizational infrastructure," such as established procedures, defined staff duties or the ability to track cases. Its handling of employee complaints "is known for poor investigative quality and a lack of responsiveness";
  • Dismally "poor performance" with backlogs and long delays in investigations of discrimination complaints. A review of complaints from EPA employees found that none received a final agency decision on time, with many several months overdue; and
  • A confused "fire drill mentality has resulted in significant financial and reputational consequences for the Agency" in the form of large cash settlements from botched discrimination investigations.

In releasing a redacted version of the Deloitte evaluation to employees on April 1, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson touted her appointment of Rafael DeLeon to lead the Office of Civil Rights. That same day, however, a group of current and former EPA employees called for an investigation of DeLeon on the grounds that he "has been the subject of numerous complaints by women at the Agency." The employees also cited a "gulag mentality" inside the Office.

"Conditions of fairness inside EPA, especially for whistleblowers, have gotten worse, not better during the past two years," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting the absence of effective staff feedback mechanisms. "EPA offers its specialists few opportunities to meaningfully participate in agency affairs, resulting in a debilitating upstairs-downstairs mentality."

The consequences of a broken Equal Employment Opportunities process are perhaps best illustrated by the EPA Criminal Investigation Division (CID) which is responsible for prosecuting major corporate pollution crimes. CID has been plagued by declining output and a crippling exodus of special agents. Following a review by an outside evaluation team faulting abusive management, EPA ended up restoring the same managers who drew complaints from agents for heavy-handed practices. As a result, in 2010 for the first time more agents voluntarily transferred out of CID than left due to mandatory retirement.

"There is no shortage of political opponents who want to hamstring EPA so it is surprising that EPA's management is often its own worst enemy," Ruch added. "How can EPA speak with any credibility on topics such as environmental justice when it cannot address gross injustice inside its own hallways?"

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.