EPA to Downsize Its Inspector General’s Office

In the face of budget cuts authorized by President Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is preparing for significant staff reductions in 2008. The new proposal calls for reducing the OIG’s budget by more than $5 million, or roughly 10 percent of their total allotment for 2006. Critics charge that the OIG is being attacked because it has issued several reports during the Bush Administration’s tenure that have been highly critical of the EPA’s lax regulatory enforcement and its tendency to bow to political and industry pressure.

Internal memos discussing the new budget and its ramifications were released by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). According to a memo sent last month by acting Inspector General Bill Roderick and obtained by PEER, the reductions may cost the OIG more than 30 full-time jobs, since 90 percent of the OIG budget is earmarked for personnel. The budget cuts may also force the OIG to close certain facilities as well. The OIG is also looking at early-retirement buyouts for some employees, along with a hiring freeze that will hamstring their ability to replace significant losses by attrition.

“Bottom line,” wrote Roderick, “it’s hard to characterize this news as anything but unwelcome and disappointing…” With the President aiming for a balanced budget by 2012 and with the budgets for defense and homeland security skyrocketing, it’s no surprise that Bush’s new budget proposal would hit the EPA hard.

Scientists and environmentalists are concerned about the budget reductions because the OIG is integral in preventing the political manipulation of the EPA’s research and regulations. They are also instrumental in making sure that the EPA’s regulatory muscle is not weakened by political policies and corporate influence.

“If ever an agency needed a strong Office of Inspector General, it is the EPA in 2007,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The tremendous impact that EPA decisions have on peoples’ lives deserves independent scrutiny from auditors and other investigators who can shred agency technical double-talk and get to the bottom of problems.”

Ruch added, “It is not surprising that the last thing the Bush administration values is aggressive investigation into corporate pollution offenses and the political collusion that lubricates them. Congress should be consulted before irreversible steps are taken.”

Congress has not yet approved the budget proposal.

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