By Kevin Berends. This article was first published on the Black Agenda Report.
At the Environmental Protection Agency, protection of the hierarchy is the prime directive and whistleblowing is the cardinal sin. Dissenters risk loss of livelihood, reputation, freedom and health. Take a walk through the corridors of a racist, corporate-dominated government agency: The Shadow EPA.
“When the orders are given to take a troublemaker out there are ways to do it that crush the whistleblower and send chilling messages to the Agency’s remaining employees.”
Game over. Next!
That’s the way the Environmental Protection Agency plays it. “Our mission is to protect human health and the environment.” Period. An impressive goal and no doubt the vast majority of EPA employees are dedicated, hardworking professionals. Yet undeclared and equally binding to those employees is the protection of the Agency’s reputation, its senior managers and their practices—that are at direct odds with its mission. We might call this the Shadow EPA.
This Shadow EPA operates much like the mafia. It has its own bosses, rules and significantly—thugs—to enforce the rules and protect the bosses. Promotions originate from within its ranks (with bosses picked from a pool of candidates who understand and do not question the rules) and when the orders are given to take a troublemaker out there are ways to do it that crush the whistleblower and send chilling messages to the Agency’s remaining employees. There is one set of shadow rules for the bosses and quite another set of rules for everyone else.
There is the case of a young African American female EPA employee who was visited during work hours by the Agency’s Inspector General (IG) police, armed and wielding handcuffs that they applied before escorting her out of the building, hands behind her back, into a waiting police car with all of her colleagues watching.
Her public crime? During an earlier semester she had taken training courses at a local school and then applied to the school for more courses. After being approved the school noticed she had not yet paid for the first classes. When the young woman received Agency reimbursement for the second courses, she used it to pay for the first courses she had taken. The Agency referred her case to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) charging her criminally for what should have been a civil offense. The presiding judge in the case even wondered out loud why a clearly civil case was being heard in criminal court.
Her shadow crime? It turns out that she had filed a claim against the Agency when a supervisor—an African-American male—referred to himself using the artful phrasing of the slavery era as “the Agency’s Head Negro in Charge.” Oh dear.
Rather than investigate the complaint (that was one of many alleging racism within the Senior Executive Service) and begin working to address what many Agency employees see as rampant racism and corruption the Agency chose to retaliate against the whistleblower and protect the accused supervisor. The shadow mandate kicked into auto pilot against the young woman. It was seek and destroy within a proven script. For the young woman there would be the need to retain legal counsel at the very least. And likely appeal attorneys, and court fees—all of which came after her termination while she was dangled over a legal precipice by the Agency that had access to its full array of staff attorneys (of the 17,000 total EPA employees, fully 1,000 are attorneys), the Justice Department and a virtually unlimited legal budget. Game over. Next!
In the case of Jon Grand, we have a veteran with over 20 years service as a senior administrator in the EPA’s Chicago regional office. From 1997 to 1999, Grand was assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark with a housing allowance of roughly $20,000 a year.
On his return stateside, the EPA continued depositing the housing allowance of $890 electronically into his paycheck. Noticing its accounting software was seriously flawed, in 2004 the EPA incorporated a new time and management system that flagged Mr. Grand’s housing allowance. He discussed the situation with the Comptroller’s office in Washington, worked out a repayment schedule and started paying back the Agency’s error of roughly $80,000 plus interest, thinking it would take about 4 years to pay it off. The Corporate Crime Reporter picks up the story from there:
“’I was called into the Acting Deputy Regional Administrator’s Office and told that someone had called the EPA Inspector General about possible criminal charges,’ Grand said…’That was happening in the 2003 and 2004 time period.’
“’I said – I thought we had that resolved.’
“’He said – no, you are going to be put on administrative leave. And the IG will contact you…The next thing I know is that I got a letter from the Department of Justice saying – you are being charged with a felony and we are going to seize your house, seize your property, close your bank accounts and everything else.’” (See Corporate Crime Report, October 30, 2011)
The prosecutor in Jon Grand’s case stated in open court, “There is no allegation in this case that Grand caused the EPA to continue paying the overseas housing allowance. Based on current information, the government believes the overpayments were the result of error on EPA’s part.” Mr. Grand’s attorney, however—out of fear of an overzealous prosecutor and potential extended prison time if convicted—advised Grand to plead guilty to a lesser rather than the serious felony charge. Grand thought he would get a slap on the wrist and everything would be over. To his shock and dismay, the judge sentenced Grand to 4 months in a federal maximum security prison, two years house arrest and two years probation.
Grand’s publicly-stated crime? Illegally receiving funds.
His shadow crime? It turns out that in 1998 the Agency had a pesky problem it wanted to have go away. Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, a senior policy analyst for the EPA who was acting as the EPA’s liaison to the White House during the Clinton administration’s Binational Negotiations with the fledgling government of Nelson Mandela in South Africa immediately post-apartheid, had filed a Title 7 complaint against the Agency for race, sex and color discrimination. During the course of her trial, Jon Grand testified to having heard racial slurs directed toward Dr. Coleman-Adebayo by the very defendants named in her complaint. Mr. Grand’s testimony sealed the verdict in the case with the jury finding that the Agency had discriminated against Dr. Coleman-Adebayo and had created “a hostile work environment.”
That case may have gone against the Agency but the Shadow EPA exacted its pound of flesh from Jon Grand—that cost him his career, his home and his marriage. Game over. Next!
Suffice it to say that the Agency did not smile on having its Shadow Operatives exposed and defeated in court by Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. Nor did it like the $600,000 judgment awarded her in damages. And it did not cotton the referencing of Coleman-Adebayo v Carol Browner in the 1st civil rights and whistleblower protective legislation of the 21st century that was codified into U.S. law with the signing of the NoFEAR Act by President George W. Bush in 2002.
All of these were just minor setbacks in the Shadow EPA’s war on whistleblowers. Note that all of this was well entrenched before President Obama ratcheted up the pressure to silence critics by bringing more Espionage Act prosecutions against whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined (among other chilling measures). Marsha’s victory and legislative accomplishments (NoFEAR required a grueling two-year effort to shepherd it through Congress) were just the beginning of her problems with the Shadow EPA thugs.
Though they were named in her trial, there was no disciplinary action taken against any of them. Rather, they were promoted, paid bonuses and—stunningly—put in charge of the Agency’s Office of Civil Rights. Predictably, retaliation and harassment of Marsha ensued with the Agency refusing to accommodate her need to work in a safe environment (away from its Shadow Thugs) and refusing several requests by other Agencies willing to detail her to work for them. After fourteen years of hand to hand combat with the most powerful government on earth, Marsha was fired for “undue burden on the Agency” since her doctors recommended that she should not work under EPA mangers who had harassed and retaliated against her. The agency position being that if they had to choose between a victim of discrimination and a discriminatory manager, the victim was to be sacrificed.
For the next legal worm wrestle Dr. Coleman-Adebayo has been given the primary deposition demands by the EPA/Department of Justice as follows:
1). “All state and federal tax returns filed for the years 2000 through 2007.”
2). “All documents related to any travel taken, either for business or for pleasure during the time period 2000 through 2007.”
3). “All communications between you and any elected officials including, but not limited to, any member of Congress.”
4). “All documents related to and/or any communications between you and any third party related to the editing, and publication of No FEAR: A Whistleblower’s Triumph….”
a). “Any contracts related to the book.”
b). “Any advance payment or royalties paid, and
c). ” Any negative reviews, criticism or complaints received about the book.”
5). “All documents related to any medical care you received during the time period of 2000 through 2007 that you have not previously disclosed to the Agency.”
Recall that the Obama administration has been relentless in its pursuit of whistleblowers. Implicit in the deposition demands is a direct threat to the 1st Amendment and freedom of the press guarantees, with the government expecting Marsha to reveal her sources. The obvious point being to have a chilling effect on people willing to talk to Marsha.
The remaining demands invade privacy, exceed authority or seem to be making demands that cannot be satisfied, thereby setting up inevitable failure for which Dr. Coleman-Adebayo can be deemed deficient, in need of reprimand and ultimately dismissed.
Like flies to wanton little boys, they kill whistleblowers in their sport. Next!
And then there is the strange (to say the least) case of John C. Beale, who was a senior policy adviser in the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Beale (and those who approved his paychecks, travel vouchers and other perks) cast no shadows for extended periods of absence that he explained to his supervisors as time “working at the CIA’s Directorate of Operations,” according to the Huffington Post.
Discerning the public from the shadow EPA is not so clear cut in Mr. Beal’s case. Agency spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said, “This is a situation where one individual went to great lengths to deceive and defraud the U.S. government.” We might call this the “one bad apple paradigm.” Except that in the EPA every paycheck, every voucher, every request for special privileges has to be approved by somebody. So why aren’t the supervisors who approved all the theft under scrutiny too?
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy—for whom Beale had worked, according to the Washington Post, “for at least part of the time that he allegedly stole agency funds”—was said by a source close to the investigation to have “forced Beale into retirement” with a base salary at the time of $164,700. Why didn’t McCarthy at the very least have him arrested? Or fired. When it was discovered that he had defrauded the Agency of upwards of $900,000.00 why were there no IG police waiting to take a handcuffed John Beale out the front door at high noon? No parade through the agency as an example to others. Politico reported that “he took in a full salary while missing two and half years of work between 2008 and 2013 for his non-existent CIA duties—costing the government $350,000.” (Read more in Politico, “Fake EPA Spy’s Caper Provokes Outrage on Hill.”)
Beale faces 30 to 37 months in prison, payment of restitution for $886,000, forfeit of an additional $507,000 and a fine of up to $60,000.
The Post quotes Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) as saying, “Month after month American taxpayers are going to pay” Beale. He said he wants to see EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy come before the committee to answer for why she didn’t immediately fire Beale after becoming aware that he was receiving unearned bonuses and had stayed on the payroll even after holding a retirement party.
“What does it take to actually get fired in this federal government?” Chaffetz railed.”
That of course depends on which side of the Agency the shadow falls. If you happen to be among the rarified shadow operators it appears to take some doing indeed to get oneself fired. Still, the consequences John Beale faces are daunting.
In some ways it is encouraging to see accountability among high level officials who might just as easily have slipped unnoticed over the horizon. Most significant, beyond the politics and kabuki theater there is the beginning of a discussion in Congressional oversight committees that asks the question of what is to be done to discipline rogue elements and individuals within the federal bureaucracy. There is talk of taking benefits away from senior offenders who to this day operate with impunity, in the shadows at the expense and to the detriment of the legitimate and necessary mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kevin Berends produces communications for the No FEAR Institute, was a co-founder of Lake Affect Magazine and is the principal for ‘streetlevel’ communications. His work has appeared in the Black Agenda Report, TruthOut and elsewhere. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org