Anthony Lacey (Courtesy of Anthony Lacey)
The Bush administration is proposing budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of the Inspector General. Several leading members of Congress are concerned that some agency staff members are being offered buyouts before Congress has even acted on the budget. “Inside EPA” Managing Editor Anthony Lacey talks with host Bruce Gellerman about the proposed cuts.
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman. Earlier in our show we told you about a secret proposal that could weaken the Endangered Species Act. Well, also from Washington this past week comes news of a move that could weaken enforcement of anti-pollution laws. The independent office that serves as the watchdog for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being put on a shorter leash, and may lose some of it’s bite. The budget of the office of the Inspector General at the EPA is being cut. Some critics charge the cut is politically motivated.
Joining me is Anthony Lacey. He’s managing editor of the publication "Inside EPA." Anthony, welcome to Living on Earth.
GELLERMAN: Let me ask you first before you even talk about these cuts is what does the office of the inspector general do at the EPA?
LACEY: It’s the independent branch that reviews audits and investigates EPA on a range of subjects, particularly rule makings that the agency comes out with. It’s kind of the independent check on the agency within the agency.
GELLERMAN: I understand there are about 360 people who work in this office of inspector general right now. They want to cut what ten percent of the funding and 30 jobs.
LACEY: Right the proposal for fiscal year 2008 would be a 5.1 million cut to the office’s funding.
GELLERMAN: You know in terms of federal spending though five million dollars doesn’t sound like much money.
LACEY: Right, the criticism though is that 30 employees that’s a significant amount of expertise.
LACEY: That is the major concern that’s coming out of John Dingell’s office. And he’s joined in that concern by several of the Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee that he chairs, as well as the ranking Republican on the committee, John Shimkas. And their concerns are that Congress hasn’t even acted on this budget - the House or the Senate haven’t passed their versions of the EPA spending bill. And these job cuts, and the budget cuts as well, it’s all in the proposed budget. And so they’re questioning where is the authority coming from to go ahead with these job cuts. The signal is that acting Inspector General, Bill Roderick is pressing ahead with staff buyouts and trying to implement these job cuts.
GELLERMAN: So it would be a fait accomplis?
LACEY: That’s the exact phrase John Dingell used to describe it, yeah.
GELLERMAN: How was it done in preceding budget years?
LACEY: In previous budget years the office has received cuts, but at the same time it’s kept up its investigations of the agency. Under the former inspector general, Nikki Tinsley, who resigned last March, the agency did a lot of reviews which were fairly critical of EPA rule makings.
GELLERMAN: So are you suggesting that this is pay back to the office of the inspector general for being too tough?
LACEY: Personally, I obviously couldn’t suggest that but the, I have spoken with some significant Democratic members of Congress and activist people off The Hill as well who have great expertise with this, including some former agency officials. And they have suggested that this may indeed be payback to get back at the Inspector General for its previously scathing reports on some of the EPA’s rule makings.
GELLERMAN: So the President has proposed a budget for fiscal year 2008 which would call for this cut. I mean the EPA’s gotta cut someplace then, so why not here?
LACEY: Well, the point that the Democrats are trying to make is that Congress could well boost EPA’s budget when they begin debate on the House or Senate floor on EPA’s spending bill for fiscal year 2008. In fact in John Dingell’s letter to Bill Roderick in which he raises concerns about these IG cuts he mentioned his concern that if Congress does not approve the budget cuts for the office of Inspector General that Roderick’s ongoing buyout of the staff could cause unnecessary loss of experienced personnel. So, essentially what he’s saying there is let’s wait for Congress to act because Congress may end up restoring that cut to the office of Inspector General and also not approving this proposal to cut 30 jobs.
GELLERMAN: So, what’s the next chapter in this saga?
LACEY: I think continued scrutiny from the Democrats on this issue particularly in the House Energy Committee. And some people have told me that you may also see action on the House floor to block funding for EPA to implement these job cuts.
GELLERMAN: Anthony Lacey is Managing Editor of Inside EPA. We spoke with him from his office in Arlington, Virginia. We also contacted the EPA's acting Inspector General Bill Roderick to discuss the budget cuts to his office. We were told he was, quote: "unavailable for comment."
[MUSIC: Pinetop Seven “Untitled” from ‘The Night’s Bloom’ (Empyrean Records - 2005)]
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