The head of the watchdog agency tasked with overseeing the EPA faced accusations of abusing his power, wasting government funds and showing partisan favoritism.
Environmental Protection Agency Inspector General Sean O’Donnell denied the allegations, but the watchdog ultimately determined they were not worthy of further investigation, according to documents obtained by E&E News.
The move comes after Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, issued an alert in August about a number of concerns raised by whistleblowers to his office. An investigation by a government watchdog has been launched.
In an Aug. 7 letter to Kevin Winters, chairman of the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), Raskin said that O’Donnell “did not perform his duties properly. expressed “serious concerns” about the allegations. He appears to lack the independence and integrity required of an inspector general. ”
“Contrary to CIGIE standards and the professionalism expected of federal IGs, multiple whistleblowers allege that Mr. O’Donnell created a hostile work environment and acted in a manner that undermined the integrity reasonably expected of an IG.” ,” the lawmaker wrote.
CIGIE is an independent organization responsible for overseeing the federal government’s inspector general, which investigates and eradicates waste, fraud, and abuse within government agencies. The council’s integrity committee, which also includes fellow commissioners, receives and reviews allegations of misconduct against the inspector general or his or her staff.
However, in a November 1 letter, Thomas Monheim, vice-chairman of the Integrity Commission, warned Raskin and other prominent members that, after reviewing O’Donnell’s defense and supporting documentation, no further investigation would be warranted. said that it had been shown that it was not necessary.
“IG O’Donnell’s response sufficiently addresses these allegations and further investigation is not warranted,” Monheim wrote. “therefore, [Integrity Committee] No further action will be taken on this matter at this time. ”
Monheim’s letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said Winters was denied involvement in the matter and was not allowed to participate in the committee’s deliberations. I also did not participate.
Monheim said in the letter that O’Donnell had submitted a five-page response on September 28 denying the charges in Raskin’s letter and that over the past year he had been asked to respond to “numerous false accusations.” “I expressed my concerns about what was being asked of me,” he said. There is no basis. ”
As the EPA’s inspector general, O’Donnell has voiced concerns about the influx of cash into the agency from President Joe Biden’s signature climate change and infrastructure law, totaling more than $100 billion over the next few years. has been announced. He testified before Congress, warning that such large sums of money could be ripe for fraud and waste.
House Democrats want more answers about why O’Donnell’s review was not continued.
A Democratic spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee said that in addition to asking the EPA inspector general for a written response to the allegations, lawmakers also asked for additional information about the investigative steps it took in deciding not to open an investigation. He said he has asked the Integrity Commission to provide the information.
“To ensure that our nation’s public servants and the public have confidence in our inspector generals, Watch Democrats continues to support CIGIE’s important work to ensure that the inspector general community meets rigorous professional standards. “We will continue to do so,” the spokesperson said. “Obtaining this additional information will assist the committee in its efforts.”
A spokesperson for the EPA Office of Inspector General said the agency has no comment at this time in response to questions from E&E News.
Representatives from the CIGIE Integrity Committee also declined to comment on the matter.
Suspected inappropriate comment
O’Donnell denied a number of accusations made by an anonymous whistleblower, including that Raskin made inappropriate comments at work.
O’Donnell, who wears a college ring from his alma mater, Texas A&M University, told an executive meeting that his ring “caused him to go in and out of the bedroom” with women. “At least two female employees and one male employee were upset by this statement and expressed their displeasure,” Raskin said.
According to Monheim’s letter, O’Donnell said he had never used the phrase or heard anyone else use it until the committee shared it with him.
According to Raskin’s letter, O’Donnell also allegedly told staff that “white men are a minority in the OIG, and hiring managers within the OIG don’t want to hire white men.” He is also accused of making comments about species and gender. Men. ”
In response, Ms O’Donnell told the Integrity Commission that when she joined there was only one woman in a senior leadership position in the IG Office, but there are now at least five women in the office. Furthermore, there were no circumstances in which recruiters took race or gender into account when recruiting staff, and if they had, he “would have promptly addressed the issue.” Stated.
Mr. Raskin also said Mr. O’Donnell allegedly made an offensive remark when introducing an employee from West Virginia, saying, “They can at least read and write.”
O’Donnell similarly rejected the accusations, saying he enjoyed visiting the state and “did not make any offensive or inappropriate comments about West Virginia employees.”
Disney World and “Grumbleberry”
Raskin’s letter also outlined complaints about O’Donnell’s plans for an all-hands meeting at a resort in Orlando, Florida, in December 2022.
The conference will require up to 300 EPA IG Office employees to be flown to the venue at a cost of about $1,500 each, with additional funding for staff transportation between airports, hotels and conference facilities, Raskin said. It is said that it was spent. His IG office at EPA has 11 field offices across the country, all of which are located more than 600 miles from Orlando.
Mr Raskin’s letter said Mr O’Donnell instructed senior staff to tell any “complaints” who did not want to attend the event that the event was “obligatory”. EPA employees were also encouraged to bring their families to the event due to its proximity to the Walt Disney World Resort.
“During the five-day event, EPA OIG also hosted a ‘Holiday Get Together’ event for employees and their families,” Raskin wrote. “Following the holiday event, senior administrative services staff within the EPA OIG directed other staff not to share videos taken at the event.”
Mr. O’Donnell did not mention the Orlando trip in Mr. Monheim’s letter. But a footnote says the Integrity Committee previously addressed the allegations and sent its findings on Sept. 8 to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Oversight Committee and the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
The Office of the Inspector General, which O’Donnell oversees, has faced questions over spending in the past.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees “remind us that”[ed]According to an explanatory note attached to last year’s omnibus package, the Office of Inspector General is committed to “core commitments to customers, integrity, and accountability, including a commitment to transparent processes and compliance with laws, regulations, policies, and sound business practices.” It clearly states its values.”
The embezzlers were “concerned” that the EPA watchdog had undergone “significant reorganization” without notifying Congress and “reminded” the inspector general of the agency’s reorganization rules.
Lawmakers responded by directing the Office of the Inspector General to submit quarterly reports on infrastructure law spending, “including travel and conference spending.”
Are you close to Trump?
O’Donnell was nominated by then-President Donald Trump and confirmed by the Senate in December 2019.
O’Donnell was appointed acting Pentagon inspector general in April 2022, amid President Trump’s repeated firings against inspectors general, and after President Joe Biden’s nominee for Pentagon inspector general, Robert Storch, was approved. He held this position concurrently with his EPA position until 1995. last year.
Raskin’s letter also brings scrutiny to O’Donnell’s relationship with Trump aides.
The whistleblower said O’Donnell had “partisan tendencies” including a “close” relationship with John McEntee, who served in the White House and led the White House Office of Presidential Personnel during the Trump administration. He is said to have expressed the view that
“According to one whistleblower, they perceived this statement to be an attempt by Mr. O’Donnell to exaggerate his authority and power,” Raskin said in the letter.
O’Donnell denied knowing McEntee and denying that he was close to President Trump. He told the Integrity Commission that his own work as EPA Inspector General and as acting IG of the Department of Defense, including his public statements, made this accusation completely false.
Raskin’s letter said O’Donnell “significantly delayed” his office’s publication of the report and minimized its findings because then-Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler “didn’t like” the report. It also included an allegation that he tried to suppress the situation.
Mr O’Donnell also denied the allegations, telling the Integrity Commission that his office “does not intend to negotiate or undermine” the report’s recommendations. He believed the only report that Mr. Wheeler objected to was the March 31, 2020 warning to management regarding the ethylene oxide discharge facility.
Wheeler issued a press release slamming the report, but O’Donnell believed the report was delayed before it reached the Office of the Inspector General.
According to Monheim’s letter, O’Donnell provided the integrity committee with an E&E news article that featured Wheeler’s unusual pushback against the alert.