The EPA’s Budget Deniers

With “climate change’” as the #1 adversary of the United States, can there be any accountability? Or does the EPA get a free pass? (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Recently, our organization, American Transparency, released a comprehensive oversight report on EPA agency spending from FY2000-FY2014. As a result, the EPA faced tough questions from reporters regarding expenditures such as $6.4 million on military-style weaponry, $92 million on high-end furniture costs, $170 million on public relations, $715 million spent on the Criminal Enforcement Program, $1 billion on their Senior Employment Program, and $1.2 billion on 1,020 staff lawyers.

During this questioning, EPA spokespersons were exposed as budget deniers. Instead of answering questions regarding the highlighted fact patterns, the EPA employed a “truthiness” spin that uses language that sounds like fact, but deliberately confuses and obfuscates the issue.

Here’s an example from the EPA: “This report (OpenTheBooks Oversight Report – EPA) contains numerous inaccuracies, cherry picks information and falsely misrepresents the work of two administrations whose job is to protect public health, and ensure people are informed about the critical work of EPA. Many purchases were mis-characterized or blown out of proportion in the report.”

This official statement doesn’t contain a single element of truth. Here are four facts the EPA’s budget deniers ignored:

1. We quantified $110 billion in comprehensive EPA disclosed salary, bonus and checkbook expenditures as required by the federal transparency law the “Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006” co-sponsored by then-Senators Barack Obama and Dr. Tom Coburn.

2. We simply reorganized EPA’s own spending disclosures into an illuminating oversight report. Over the past two months, the EPA has not successfully disputed one single fact that we published in our report.

3. By design, our report covers two administrations – one Republican and one Democratic – and thus shows the bureaucratic intransigence of the EPA’s culture of denial.

4. The job of an agency employee is not to “ensure people are informed about the critical work of the EPA.” That’s public relations. Today, at the EPA it’s obvious that PR has replaced its core mission to protect public health and the environment.

Here are a few more examples of budget denial at the EPA:

1. They denied purchasing military-style weaponry and equipment when they purchased $6.4 million worth.

2. They denied misallocating resources on the purchase, rental, and moving of high-end furniture amounting to $92 million. They said they saved taxpayers money by moving into a smaller building and couldn’t fit the old furniture into the new space. For American families and businesses simply moving isn’t a license to redecorate.

3. They defied spending $170 million on public relations since 2000 – including up to $27 million in contracts to outside PR firms (EPA employs up to 200 PR officers and even uses outside firms to push proposed regulations).

EPA spokespersons even denied conducting raids, even though the Forty Mile River raid in the small town of Chicken, Alaska occurred in 2013. (Note: “EPA raids” were not a part of our report, as we only focused on the financial transactions.)

Now, the EPA is hiding or slow walking the disclosure of information taxpayers deserve to know.  For example, our Freedom of Information Act requests are taking up to five months to fulfill. The agency also signs their largest contractors to non-disclosure hush agreements. They’re taking secrecy and denial to a new level. Agency employees recently deleted text messages subject to the Public Records Act. Agency administrators also have used private email accounts for public business.

Inside the EPA checkbook, we also found more than $336 million in contracts with unknown or vague product descriptions, which points to a severe lack of internal accounting controls.

While the EPA is opposed to disclosure, they are committed to something called the “thin green line.”In June 2015 Michael R. Fischer, director of the legal division of the EPA Criminal Enforcement coined the term “thin green line” in a published defense of his agencies armed “special agents.” The reference recalled the graduates at West Point Military Academy, “the Long Gray Line,” or the “thin blue line” – police officers that “separate the good from the bad while creating order from chaos.”

Taxpayers should be concerned as the agency pushes forward to a new era of the “thin green line.” EPA “special agents” armed with millions of dollars in military-style equipment, weaponry, and backed by 1,020 in-house lawyers – with a budget larger than eight states – feel emboldened to “separate the good from the bad.”

Every citizen ought to be especially concerned about the EPA as they ramp up their rhetoric to match their newly expanded mission – defending America from our #1 adversary, climate change.

If you’re a “climate change denier” the EPA may come and get you, but if you’re a budget denier within the EPA you might just earn yourself a new recliner.

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