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EPA chief Gina McCarthy intervened to halt to internal inquiry - Washington Times

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By Jim McElhatton  The Washington Times

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy personally intervened to delay an inspector general’s investigation into the agency’s homeland security division, records show.

Ms. McCarthy called for the inspector general to “temporarily halt” its probe into the office last fall days after an investigator reported threatening behavior from an official inside the homeland security office, documents show.


SPECIAL COVERAGE: Energy and Environment


The inspector general’s special agent, Elisabeth Heller Drake, tried to talk to an EPA official as part of an investigation into the homeland security office. During the visit, another official in the office “approached the agent in an aggressive manner and began yelling at the agent,” according to an affidavit reviewed by The Washington Times.

The official, identified in documents reviewed by The Times as senior EPA analyst Steve Williams, “was in the agent’s face and began pointing within inches of her face and chest forcing the complainant to move back,” according to the affidavit.

The Federal Protective Service, which oversees federal buildings, investigated the incident and sent findings supporting a misdemeanor assault charge to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, saying the office typically doesn’t confirm or deny investigations.

Efforts to reach Mr. Williams were unsuccessful, and he did not return email inquiries from The Times. Ms. Drake referred questions to an attorney, David Schleicher.

“We look forward to continuing to work with EPA and Congress in seeking a resolution of these difficult issues,” Mr. Schleicher wrote in an email.

Ms. McCarthy referred to “an apparent confrontation” days later in an October letter that she sent to Inspector General Arthur Elkins and to Juan Reyes, the EPA’s acting associate administrator.

“These incidents are unfortunately indicative of the growing discord, distrust and conflict between members of your respective offices,” Ms. McCarthy wrote.

Ms. McCarthy said she hadn’t received a clear explanation for the inspector general’s review or methodology, but noted that the inspector general had raised questions about the homeland security office’s role in national security investigations.

She said she wanted her general counsel to “lead a dialogue between the two of you to resolve those questions,” according to the letter. Meanwhile, she said, “I request that the OIG temporarily halt its review until the process I have described is complete.”

Most inspector general offices, including the one for the EPA, are independent entities under federal law, and requests from agencies on the handling of specific inspector general investigations are uncommon.

“It’s highly unusual for an administrator or director of a Cabinet-level department to request an IG stop an investigation,” said Eric Feldman, who served as inspector general of the National Reconnaissance Office from 2003 to 2009. “That never ends well.”

It’s unclear what became of the underlying investigation that brought Ms. Drake into the EPA’s homeland security office, but the EPA inspector general’s office and the department overall have made no secret about their disagreement on whether the inspector general has the legal right to investigate the office.

 
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