EPA watchdog exposes problems inside agency that liberals love, Trump wants cut

Inspector General's strategic report identifies several challenges impacting public health and 142 ongoing waste, fraud, and abuse probes.

Image
EPA Protesters
EPA employee holds up sign during protest over agency funding.
JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images
Last Updated:
March 7, 2020 - 8:16am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Environmental Protection Agency has long been a political football in a divided Washington. Liberals and climate change advocates want it expanded, while conservatives like President Trump seek to cut its funding and some of its regulatory powers that they see as overreach.

But no matter which side of the debate you embrace, EPA's internal watchdog has offered a new and sobering assessment of the state of the agency.

"Poor data quality negatively impacts the EPA’s effectiveness in overseeing programs that directly impact public health," the agency's inspector general warned in a report Friday that identified several challenges from prior years that continue hurting the agency's mission.

The IG warned the agency hasn't done enough to improve its cybersecurity or to meet its legal obligations to provide information to policymakers and the public.

"The Agency faces challenges in tracking and submitting reports mandated by law that contain key program information for Congress, the EPA Administrator, and the public," the watchdog said.

On cybersecurity it added: "The Agency lacks a holistic approach to managing accountability over its contractors and lacks followup on corrective actions taken."

One concern cited in the report, which identified how the IG will monitor the EPA in 2020, is a lack of progress on prior identified issues.

"In 2018, the EPA Administrator identified risk communication as a top priority. Our recent reports indicate risk communication challenges across many EPA programs," the report warned.

Similarly, a key board inside the agency, the Chemical Safety Board, is in danger of running out of leadership because of a lack of appointees. "Without new members by August 2020, the CSB governing body cannot complete Its mission or meet its goals," the IG warned.

And if that isn't enough, the IG revealed it has 142 cases of agency and contractor waste, fraud and misconduct ongoing. “Of the 142 open investigations, 75, or 53 percent, are fraud-related; and 42 cases, or 30 percent, involve employee misconduct,” the IG said.

Some of the investigations involve falsifying documents and forgery, misuse of government property by a non-employee and destruction of government property by a non-employee. 

EPA’s Inspector General Sean W. O’Donnell's status update comes as the partisan battle over EPA's funding revs up.

Democrats, liberals, and environmentalists criticized Trump last month when he proposed reducing EPA's Protection budget for fiscal 2021 to $6.7 billion, down from $8,9 billion in 2019.

You can read the full report here.