EPA Inspector General’s Office Hit by Budget Cuts
Without waiting for congressional approval of its budget for FY2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is moving to downsize its Office of Inspector General (IG), according to agency memos released by a national association of government employees.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) says the cutbacks will reduce the ability of the IG office to audit EPA contracting, investigate enforcement actions, and review allegations of political manipulation of agency science.
Under the continuing resolution passed by Congress in February to fund the EPA and most other non-defense agencies through FY2007, which began this past October, the EPA-IG received a $900,000 increase.
But in his proposed budget for FY2008, President George W. Bush would cut the IG budget by $5.1 million–the equivalent of a 10 percent budget reduction.
EPA managers are implementing these proposed cuts now. The cutbacks are being carried out by Acting IG Bill Roderick under orders from EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.
In a 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.
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.
Under the previous EPA IG, Nikki Tinsley, the IG gained a reputation for some independence, issuing a series of blistering reports about controversial EPA actions. Since her departure early in 2006, 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 last 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.