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Uncovering Misconduct at the EPA

On Wednesday, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing to examine employee misconduct at the EPA. Misconduct has continued at the EPA despite repeated reform efforts and multiple hearings. Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) opened the hearing by calling the EPA “one of the most toxic places in the federal government to work.” That is a big claim, and one that should alarm conservatives and libertarians who consciously worry about corruption, protectionism, and bureaucracy in the federal government.

The hearing noted abuse and waste by federal employees at the expense of American taxpayers. Even more concerning to the committee members and those in attendance: nobody gets punished. Even in cases where EPA employees have cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars, nobody has been fired. If there are no consequences to robbing the American people, EPA employees will continue to take advantage of their positions.

Examples of employee abuses that have gone unpunished include repeatedly stealing from the EPA office and selling what was taken at pawn shops, and, commonly, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars while traveling. More than 60 cases have been closed in the past several months.

While specific examples given at the hearing were horrifying, it is important not to turn people into scapegoats. These employees must be held personally responsible for their actions, however, they are largely a product of a poisonous, bureaucratic culture at the EPA and are part of a wider trend of abuse and fraud that plagues nearly every government agency.

Waste goes beyond employee misconduct. As described in Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) waste report published on April 25, there are 13 federal agencies currently conducting duplicative research on climate change. The agencies are spending more than $2.7 billion on independent research (the EPA contributes $20 million to that total). “One would think perhaps [other agencies] could just use data, research, and models from NOAA or [NASA] instead of reinventing the wheel,” argues the report, “paying 13 different agencies to do the same thing is pretty darn wasteful.”

“We are committed to holding our employees accountable,” testified Stanley Meiburg, Acting Deputy Administrator at the EPA, “we’ve made considerable progress.”

Meiburg attempted to highlight “positive changes” at the Agency, however, the room was not convinced. As conservatives, we know that waste of any kind at the federal level is not the result of isolated events. While Meiburg and the EPA are working to hold their employees accountable, we must all work to hold government bureaucracy accountable. Feckless spending and unquestioned abuse cannot be tolerated.