EPA’s national law enforcement mission could be compromised by staffing and security concerns


In a report dated May 12, 2021, the Office of the Inspector General (BIG) of the EPA concluded that the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics, and Training (OCEFT) and its National Enforcement Investigations Center (NEIC) continue address security and staffing issues. constraints, which can compromise the ability of bureaus to carry out their mission of holding criminal polluters accountable for their actions. The EPA’s OCEFT investigates violations of environmental laws, with the NEIC providing forensic, scientific and technical support for criminal and civil environmental investigations.

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The OIG audit was conducted in response to a hotline complaint “to determine whether OCEFT and NEIC are addressing the findings and implementing corrective actions arising from previous internal and external audits, inspections and documented concerns related to to the NEIC ”, according to OIG report.

Although the EPA has addressed some of the OIG’s previous corrective actions, concerns about “unfulfilled internal safety and health audits and management reviews, mismanagement of hazardous wastes, failure to follow safety and staff concerns regarding safety and health at NEIC ”remain.

“NEIC processes the results and implements corrective actions related to its quality management system, which is designed to generate scientifically sound and legally defensible information to support environmental enforcement,” according to the report. The OIG “felt that the NEIC should improve follow-up issues, such as observations, comments, concerns and opportunities for improvement identified from the audits; the action items of the management review; and customer complaints. “

“NEIC had unresolved actions from the 2017 OCEFT Professional Integrity and Quality Assurance Unit inspection report regarding staff shortages, confidence in the management and management of hazardous waste. OCEFT did not carry out a follow-up review to examine the effectiveness of the corrective actions implemented. In 2020, following an inspection by the state of Colorado, the NEIC was cited for several hazardous waste violations. Additionally, NEIC’s 2019 Federal Employee Perspective Survey results are 22% below the EPA averages for issues related to management and the work environment.

“NEIC has been challenged by high attrition rates among staff and the inability to fill vacancies since 2016. If staffing levels continue to decline, NEIC risks reduced analytical capabilities and ability to accomplish its mission ”, according to the surveillance report.

the The OIG made 10 recommendations for the Deputy Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance:

  1. “Order the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center to develop and implement a formal procedure and follow-up mechanism for decisions of the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center relating to sightings,” comments, concerns and opportunities for improvement identified from the audits; management review action items that are not being followed anywhere else; and customer complaints.
  2. Direct the Office of Criminal Law Enforcement, Forensics and Training to develop and implement a process for following up on inspection findings, including determining and documenting whether corrective actions respond effectively to the findings .
  3. Perform a follow-up review of hazardous waste management at the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center to determine if it is complying with relevant laws and regulations and verify that internal controls are in place to ensure future compliance .
  4. Provide annual training on security incident reporting procedures to all National Law Enforcement Investigation Center employees and managers, including training on preventive or corrective actions and root cause analysis related.
  5. Develop and incorporate metrics that address safety and health issues and staff concerns into the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center senior management performance standards, such as collecting anonymous feedback from any staff every year.
  6. In coordination with the Deputy Mission Support Administrator, verify that all National Law Enforcement Investigation Center laboratory hoods are operational and certified for use.
  7. Develop and implement a staffing plan for the Office of Criminal Law Enforcement, Forensics and Training incorporating workload projections of the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center in depending on the number of officers in the Criminal Investigation Division, the needs of other EPA enforcement programs and other factors.
  8. In coordination with the Deputy Mission Support Administrator, develop a joint action plan for the hiring of new staff at the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center and promptly address recruitment delays.
  9. Develop and incorporate measures on the work environment and culture of the National Law Enforcement Investigation Center into the performance standards of senior management of the Bureau of Criminal Law Enforcement, Forensics and training, such as the results of the annual Federal Employee Perspective Survey, periodic culture audits, or other methods to measure progress.
  10. Develop and integrate metrics that address the work environment and culture into the performance standards for senior management of the National Center for Law Enforcement Investigations.

Out of the 10 recommendations, the OIG considers that 5 have not been resolved: recommendations 1, 3, 5, 9 and 10.

“The Agency’s response to our draft report shows that it does not fully understand or appreciate the Federal Office of Inspector General’s audit processes and standards,” notes the OIG report. “The EPA says the OIG is not independent and impartial because we have not incorporated all of the information that the Agency believes should be included in the report. The OIG actually incorporated relevant information provided by the Agency to contextualize our findings and present the EPA’s perspective. Ultimately, we believe this report fairly reflects the conditions we found during the audit. We stand by the quality of our reporting practices and are committed to communicating our findings and conclusions to the Agency, Congress and the public. “

OIG processes require a written response within 60 days.


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