Tori Richards | Saturday Oct 17, 2015 12:01 AM
A congressional committee will investigate reports that the Environmental Protection Agency wasted billions of dollars, including an effort to create its own militia with a prosecution arm to mirror the FBI’s.
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told Watchdog.org that a House committee will dig into allegations the EPA bought designer furniture and sporting goods equipment, and handed out hefty employee bonuses and grants to foreign countries – including China.
The charges are outlined in a recent report by Open the Books
, a non-profit dedicated to transparency and oversight of government spending. The group analyzed agency spending beginning in 2000.
Despite budget sequestration
, which mandated cutbacks and no raises, the EPA has thrived with its $8.13-billion budget, up $500 million from 2009. In fact, every president has increased the budget since Ronald Reagan in 1981.
"How can the EPA justify spending taxpayer dollars on questionable items like luxury furnishings and sports equipment?" asked Smith. "The agency also appears to have funneled millions of dollars to organizations outside the U.S. The EPA needs to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer and should justify every dollar they spend."
Smith, who heads the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, reviewed a copy of the Open the Books report provided by Watchdog, and said the committee "intends to investigate the possible misuse of public funds."
The EPA is already on Smith’s bad side for withholding requested document
spertaining to the Animas River spill in Colorado as the committee prepared for a Sept. 9 hearing. During the hearing, anEPA official told the committee
the Gold King Mine was walled off as a result of a cave-in. In fact, the EPA created the barricade, which allowed water to collect behind it — bursting when a hole was drilled, mine owner Todd Hennis told Watchdog.
Lawmakers in that hearing and another committee from the Senate blasted the EPA for its heavy-handed military-style treatment of citizens and companies who inadvertently create spills by "running them out of business" and "forcing them to go bankrupt."
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said the EPA should be contacting the FBI for heavy-duty law enforcement action if any is needed.
Regardless, some-200 EPA "special agents" have the "latest state-of-the-art ‘policing’ gear such as ‘guns and ammunition up to 300MM,’ ‘camouflage and other deceptive equipment,’ ‘night vision,’ ‘unmanned aircraft,’ ‘radar,’ ‘body armor,’ ‘surveillance equipment,’ ‘mobile GPS monitors,’ and (they) train and investigate frequently alongside joint projects with Homeland Security," the report said.
The cost? Nearly $5 million. This doesn’t include the $45.6 million per year spent for agents’ salaries. More than 1,000 attorneys back them up, costing $1.3 billion since 2007.
"The EPA does not need this kind of military unless they think someone working on an oil barrel is going to turn around and shoot them," said Gohmert, chairman of the House Natural Resources subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. "It’s been one of the most egregious developments in federal government that they feel like they need military-style squads."
Gohmert said EPA SWAT teams have descended on hapless citizens accused of having a guitar made of wood from an endangered tree and another who owned a foreign orchid that didn’t go through customs.
Spending also included the startling categories of "military chemical agents" ($1,753), "chemical weapons and equipment" ($331,380), "fusing and firing devices nuclear ordinance" ($21,900) and "nuclear bombs" ($9,297).
Open the Books has tried unsuccessfully to get the agency to explain the purchases, said the nonprofit’s CEO, Adam Andrzejewski. He said it’s possible that the categories involve cleanups of old nuclear sites, but there is no way to tell.
"We wanted clarity as to why these category headings existed in their checkbook," Andrzejewski said. "There might be a good reason, but we want to know what it is. Why haven’t they responded? The fact that [they indicated] we have to wait another two months is very questionable behavior."
The EPA told Watchdog that "Many purchases were mischaracterized or blown out of proportion in the report. This report cherry picks and falsely misrepresents the work of two administrations whose job it is to ensure people are informed about the critical work of EPA," said EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison.
The nuclear bomb and chemical weapons were "inaccurately reported to the Federal Procurement Data System," she said, adding that the expenditures were really haz mat equipment and electrical wiring. Many of the items predate the agency’s 2012 implementation of management controls and oversight, Harrison added.
Military equipment costs are actually $6.4 million, not the $5 million quoted in the report, according to Harrison.
Other unusual/questionable expenses
For those who can’t afford pricey spa memberships, consider a career at the EPA. The agency has you covered with nearly $4 million in recreational equipment.
And then there is this:
- $50 million in EPA grants to 61 International entities, including $1.229 million to China.
- $505 million to the North American Development Bank, which guarantees loans to companies 186 miles south of the border.
- $143.4 million in bonuses since 2007 to approximately 65 percent of the employees including nine that were more than $60,000 and 38 between $30,000 and $50,000.
- $48.4 million since 2005 on Herman Miller designer furniture.
- Nearly $5 million on Knoll furniture, a designer displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
- A total of $92.4 million in furniture since year 2005 – approximately $6,000 per employee.
- $813 for a special pencil drawer.
- $31,330 worth of musical instruments.
Gohmert said budget talks will be coming up soon and the EPA should be targeted as it is rife with waste. Given that the EPA is a favorite of Obama’s, Republicans could have an uphill battle. Last year, Congress attempted unsuccessfully to use Homeland Security appropriations for leverage to get the president to cut back on funding for illegal immigrants. This year, lawmakers would be better served to target the EPA, he said.
"Not only do we want to cut waste, we want to cut out a dictatorial agency," he said. "We can force them to come in and prove the value of every asset of the EPA."