GOP to examine claim that EPA blocking probes

WASHINGTON (AP) — A yearslong turf battle between the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general and an EPA unit run by President Barack Obama’s political staff is getting an airing before Congress by a top investigator who accuses the EPA administrator’s office of illegally operating a “rogue enforcement agency” that has blocked independent investigations.

The assistant EPA inspector general for investigations, Patrick Sullivan, was scheduled to testify Wednesday before a House oversight committee about the activities of the EPA’s little-known Office of Homeland Security.

The office of about 10 employees is overseen by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s office, and the inspector general’s office is accusing it of impeding its independent investigations into employee misconduct, computer security and external threats, including compelling employees involved in cases to sign nondisclosure agreements.

“Under the heavy cloak of ‘national security,’ the Office of Homeland Security has repeatedly rebuffed and refused to cooperate with the OIG’s ongoing requests for information or cooperation,” Sullivan said in prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press. “This block unquestionably has hamstrung the Office of Inspector General’s ability to carry out its statutory mandate to investigate wrongdoing of EPA employees.”

EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe was expected to tell Congress that the agency’s employees work cooperatively with the inspector general and support its mission, according to his prepared testimony.

The EPA allegations are the latest under the Obama administration to question the effective independence of the government’s inspectors general, who ostensibly operate on their own to investigate wrongdoing inside federal agencies. Two weeks ago, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put his department’s former inspector general on administrative leave after senators said he was too cozy with senior DHS officials and improperly rewrote, delayed or classified some critical reports to accommodate Obama’s political appointees.

Last year, the Defense Department’s inspector general removed material from a draft report that concluded then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had improperly disclosed classified information about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden to a producer for the movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The EPA inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., was appointed by Obama in 2010. It’s an independent office within the agency and is expected to be outside of political influence.

The dispute between the inspector general’s office and the EPA’s homeland security office came to a head last year as Republicans in Congress investigated the agency’s handling of John C. Beale, a former deputy assistant administrator who pleaded guilty in federal court last fall to stealing $886,186 between 2000 and April 2013, falsely claiming he was working undercover for the CIA. The Beale case was initially investigated by the homeland security office months before the IG’s office was made aware of it.

Another inspector general investigator, Elisabeth Heller Drake, will testify that McCarthy asked the inspector general’s office to halt a probe into a homeland security office employee after he allegedly assaulted her in October, according to her prepared testimony. The EPA says that claim is a mischaracterization and that McCarthy only asked that the investigation be paused until the internal dispute between the two offices was settled safely and efficiently.

Both the IG’s office and the EPA’s lawyers have requested a third-party investigation into that incident by the Federal Protective Service, part of the Homeland Security Department.