Regulation

Republicans vow to probe EPA paid leave linked to 'alleged serious misconduct'

EXCLUSIVE: Republican legislators, as they prepare for the incoming 114th Congress in January, are vowing to keep a wary eye on the Environmental Protection Agency and its practice of granting paid administrative leave to staffers involved in possible “serious misconduct,” lawmakers tell Fox News.

“Bringing transparency to the EPA will continue to be at the top of our agenda with the new conservative majority,” says Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee and one of the EPA’s leading critics in the outgoing 113th Congress.  “EPA has allowed a number of employees to waste millions of taxpayer dollars in the last few years through lax internal controls and substandard management.”

His sentiments are echoed by Rep. Darrell Issa of California, who is finishing up a three-year term as chairman of the powerful House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa clashed often with EPA over the strange case of John Beale, a top EPA official who was jailed a year ago for taking more than $800,000 worth of time off from his job while falsely claiming to be a CIA agent.

[pullquote]

The Beale case, in turn, sparked a recent “early warning” report of EPA’s Office of the Inspector General that revealed eight other agency employees had taken a total of ten years of officially-mandated leave from their jobs. EPA subsequently told Fox News that all eight were involved in alleged serious misconduct cases, and that three had since left the agency.

The agency provided little other information, declaring that it could not comment on any of the three staffers who had left EPA, and in the other cases was constrained to address them “in a way that is consistent with the law.”

So far as Issa is concerned, however, the probing needs to continue.

“As this Committee has investigated over the past year and examined in multiple hearings,” he told Fox News, “EPA management appears to persist in its ongoing pattern of failure to properly address employee misconduct at the agency. Questions remain regarding the EPA’s management of these cases of misconduct -- and taxpayer money being wasted by keeping these individuals on the payroll instead of taking common-sense disciplinary actions.”

The big question is whether the Republicans who chair both of those powerful committees will share that sense of priority.

The new chairman of the Republican-controlled EPW committee starting in January is James Inhofe of Oklahoma, one of the leading critics of the Obama administration’s aggressive climate change agenda.

Inhofe is likely to have plenty to do in addressing that agenda, where EPA is taking a leading role in propounding a wave of new clean-air regulations, for example, that its critics declare are excessive and likely to be crippling to U.S. industry, as well as highly expensive for consumers.

Issa’s successor in the House Oversight job is Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a highly regarded congressman who played an aggressive role in the committee’s probing of the Benghazi scandal, among other things.

Setting the agenda of both committees, however, is a task that the newly reconstituted membership can only take up in January.

George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or onFacebook.com/George Russell

George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/GeorgeRussell