EPA Inspector General’s Office Hit by Budget Cuts
Without waiting for congressional approval of its budget for Fiscal Year 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is moving this month to downsize its Office of Inspector General, IG, according to agency memos released today by a national association of government employees.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, says the cutbacks “will reduce the ability of the IG to audit Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contracting, investigate EPA enforcement actions and review allegations of political manipulation of agency science.”
Under the continuing resolution passed by Congress last month to fund the EPA and most other non-defense agencies through Fiscal Year 2007, which began this past October, the EPA-IG received a $900,000 increase.
But in his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2008, President George W. Bush would cut the IG budget by $5.1 million – the equivalent of a 10 percent budget reduction.
EPA managers implementing these proposed cuts now. The cutbacks are being carried out by Acting IG Bill Roderick under orders from EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
In March 5 memo to IG staff, Roderick says the EPA has not decided how displaced IG staff would be replaced if Congress later restores the president’s proposed reduction in funding.
“It is unlikely we will know what is going to happen soon enough not to lose some staff,” Roderick wrote.
The reductions include early retirements though buy-outs of senior auditor, criminal investigator, chemist and administrative positions.
There may be layoffs and closures of branch offices and a hiring freeze that precludes replacement of specialists who retire or resign.
“If ever an agency needed a strong Office of Inspector General, it is the EPA in 2007,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.
“The tremendous impact that EPA decisions have on peoples’ lives deserves independent scrutiny from auditors and other investigators who can shred agency technical double-talk and get to the bottom of problems,” he said.
Under the previous EPA Inspector General, Nikki Tinsley, the IG gained a reputation for some independence, issuing a series of blistering reports about controversial EPA actions. Since her departure early last year, there has been no permanent replacement.
The current Bush nominee, Alex Beehler, a Defense Department official linked to attempts to exempt Pentagon operations from environmental laws, was blocked in the last session of Congress. Beehler has been re-nominated in the current session, but his prospects for confirmation are unclear.
In the face of congressional protests, during the past few weeks, the EPA has set aside plans to cut its network of scientific laboratories and put further closures of its technical libraries on hold.