Environmental Protection:

Allegations by EPA Employees

RCED-99-61R: Published: Jan 29, 1999. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on a letter published in the Washington Times by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees and others having business with the agency alleging mismanagement by EPA and retaliation against whistleblowers, focusing on: (1) providing specific information on the allegations made by the 20 individuals and EPA's response to the allegations; and (2) whether these and other individuals sought relief under whistleblower statutory provisions and, if so, the resolution or status of the cases and whether the 20 individuals are still employed by or have business with the agency.

GAO noted that: (1) of the 20 individuals who sent the letter making the allegations to the newspaper, 10 provided GAO with 16 specific allegations; (2) the other 10 individuals told GAO that they either signed the letter to support fellow employees (8 individuals) or to protest fraud and waste in an EPA regional office (2 individuals); (3) generally the allegations involved the inappropriate use of scientific evidence, the mismanagement of contracts, and other issues; (4) nine of the allegations questioned EPA's use of science to support risk assessments and regulations; (5) in some cases, EPA's actions were alleged to have not been sufficiently protective, in others, EPA was accused of taking actions not supported by the science; (6) as of December 1998, EPA stated that it disagreed with the basis for eight allegations and indicated that it did not have sufficient information or details to formulate a response to the remaining allegation; (7) four allegations made by the individuals concerned specific contract irregularities or contract activities; (8) EPA's Office of Inspector General confirmed that the contract irregularities cited in one allegation had occurred; (9) for another allegation, EPA's Office of Inspector General reviewed the contract and did not take further action on the allegation; (10) in response to the other two contract allegations, EPA said that one was unfounded and that it was unaware of the specifics of the other allegation and could not comment on it; (11) the three remaining allegations involved issues such as the approval of grants without adequate documentation; (12) of the 20 people who sent the letter to the newspaper, 8 had filed 12 complaints against EPA alleging that the agency had retaliated for whistleblower activities; (13) these complaints were not always linked to the allegations about scientific evidence or contract mismanagement; (14) five of those who sent the letter are no longer employed by or associated with the agency, four of the five had filed complaints about retaliation; (15) another individual remains on EPA's payroll but is on a detail to a university position; (16) from January 1992 through December 1998, approximately the same period during which these 12 complaints were filed, an additional 24 complaints were filed by 20 other EPA employees seeking whistleblower protection, (17) overall, for the 36 complaints, 6 were resolved in favor of the individuals, and 14 were dismissed at the request of both parties; (18) seven cases were resolved in favor of EPA; and (19) nine cases are still in litigation.

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