Policy: Environment & Energy

EPA employee convicted of theft, fraud opens questions about EPA leadership

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Beltway Confidential,EPA,Ashe Schow,Gina McCarthy,Energy and Environment,Coal

New questions are being raised in Congress about the Environmental Protection Agency's leadership following a veteran career executive's admission that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from the government between 2000 and 2013.

John C. Beale also admitted committing multiple acts of fraud between 1989 and 2013. Beale admissions include:

— Falsifying his EPA employment application;

— Claiming to be a CIA operative in order to take time off of work;

— Claiming to suffer from malaria and a back injury to take more time off work, enjoy first class travel and qualify for handicapped parking; and

— Claiming to have served in Vietnam when he had not.

Beale's admissions are the latest in a string of scandals that have afflicted EPA in recent years, including revelations in 2012 that former administrator Lisa Jackson and other high-ranking agency officials used government email addresses with fake names and personal email addresses to conduct official business in apparent efforts to circumvent government transparency regulations and the Freedom of Information Act.

Critics also accused EPA of holding back until after the 2012 election dozens of costly and burdensome proposed new regulations, including the New Source Performance Review standards that will likely prevent construction of new coal-fired power plants and cause most of those now in operation to shut down. About 40 percent of the nation's electricity is generated using coal.

Beale was a senior policy adviser for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, and was the highest-paid employee at the agency for three years, thanks to Retention Incentive Bonuses.

The bonuses gave him an annual income higher than Vice President Joe Biden's, a violation of the statutory threshold that caps compensation for career executives in the government.

Beale was only authorized to receive RIBs for six years, but got them for 23 years, according to Sen. David Vitter, R-La., ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee.

Vitter alleged that Beale’s 20-year fraud “demonstrates serious problems with EPA’s ability to implement sound hiring practices, to track its employees time and attendance, to limit travel expenses to only those that are necessary and reasonable, and to ensure that employees are taking home only the dollars that they earn.”

Vitter also said the panel should pay more attention to the agency:

“The case this morning highlights a massive problem with the EPA, and figuring out why this corruption occurred with apparently no one the wiser needs to be a priority of our committee," Vitter said.

"This is a major failing within EPA, and no direct actions have been taken to guarantee this kind of abuse won’t happen again," Vitter said. "At minimum, $900,000 of the taxpayers’ money was stolen right under administrator Gina McCarthy’s nose, so I want to know: How vulnerable is this agency?”

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins also weighed in on the EPA’s apparent inability to track serious employee fraud, calling the incident “unfathomable” in an email to reporters.

“The details of this remarkable story are unfathomable — and yet they happened. An absence of even basic internal controls at the EPA allowed an individual to commit multiple frauds over a long period of time,” he said.

Elkins praised his office for discovering the fraud and repaying taxpayers, who funded Beale’s salary.

“Thanks to the diligence of the special agents on this case, monetary restitution finally will be paid to the taxpayers. Hopefully, exposing the lax agency practices that enabled Mr. Beale to construct and prosper from a web of lies also will lead to swift reforms so such abuses can never recur,” Elkins said.

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