EPA warns its employees not to talk to the agency's internal watchdog.
Over the past seven years, the Environmental Protection Agency has redefined its mission from fighting pollution to serving as a guardian angel for big business, energy companies and land developers. On every front, from undercutting state efforts to ignoring greenhouse gas emissions to opening public lands for exploitation, the agency charged with protecting the environment has sided against environmental protection.
Not surprisingly, the agency's political appointees would like to keep the many dedicated civil service employees from sharing that bad news with the press, Congress and the agency's internal investigators. An e-mail sent to managers of the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance by division chief of staff Robbi Farrell admonishes them to forward all inquiries from the EPA inspector general, the congressional Government Accountability Office or journalists to a designated senior staffer. According to the e-mail, "Please do not respond to questions or make any statements."
It's common for government agencies to try to limit media contact to public information officers or top administrators. But warning staff not to talk to an agency's own investigators is unusual and undermines the ability of an inspector general to get access to information and documents.
Farrell's e-mail was leaked by officials of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, whose membership includes environmental professionals in government. The group's executive director, Jeff Ruch, said the e-mail is more evidence that a culture of secrecy has taken hold at the EPA. "Inside the EPA, candor has become the cardinal sin," Ruch stated. "The clear intention behind this move is to chill the cubicles by suppressing any uncontrolled release of information."
The office of the EPA inspector general reacted to the e-mail by reminding agency employees they are legally required to cooperate with the OIG and to provide full and unrestricted access to EPA documents.
Farrell is not the only EPA administrator trying to turn off the spigot of public information. Earlier this month Bharat Mathur, who supervises the Midwest region, issued a memo requiring agency scientists and specialists to route all media inquiries to the EPA Office of Public Affairs. According to Ruch, "This policy shows the EPA political leadership's profound fear of the expertise of its own professional staff."
An EPA spokeswoman claimed Farrell's e-mail was meant to facilitate the flow of information and was not aimed at preventing conversations between the staff, media and investigators.
After all the disclosures of politicization and attempts to suppress dissident views in the federal bureaucracy, that explanation is no more credible than the EPA's recent track record in protecting the environment.