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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Despite Drugs, Sex with a Minor and More, EPA Employees Still Got Paid


Insubordination, disruptive behavior, falsifying documents, threatening colleagues—those were the least egregious reasons employees at the Environmental Protection Agency were placed on extended administrative leave as documented in a recent audit by the agency inspector general. Administrative leave is an excused absence without loss of pay or benefits, including personal leave time.

There was the employee jailed for felony drug possession, and another who admitted to knowingly having sex with a minor—both of whom spent months away from work while still pocketing pay as EPA managers and administrators determined their employment status.

The audit follows an “early warning report” the IG issued EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in November 2014 about excessive costs the agency was incurring while employees were under investigation.
That report found that among a sample of employees, eight had totaled nearly 21,000 hours of paid administrative leave, costing taxpayers more than $1 million. Four of the eight employees had been on leave for longer than a year.

The subsequent audit, released yesterday, details seven of those cases (the eighth remains under investigation and was therefore not included in the audit).


A major problem was a lack of documentation to explain why the leave was authorized. In one example, and employee received 5,881 hours of administrative leave. Despite two separate efforts to remove the employee for hostile and disruptive actions in the workplace, the employee was ultimately allowed to take disability retirement.

“This was a significant and costly offer, but there was no documentation in the file as to how the settlement agreement terms were arrived at. During interviews, agency officials said litigation risks and other factors were considered in the decision, but those factors were not documented,” the audit said.

Retirement was also offered in the case of the employee who went to jail for drug possession (the worker was indicted for third-degree felony possession of marijuana). The employee signed a separation agreement after months of receiving paid leave, under which the employee voluntarily retired and agreed not to reapply for any position with the agency for five years.

According to the Government Accountability Office, there is no general statutory authority for the use of paid administrative leave. The Office of Personnel Management condones “brief absences” in connection with disciplinary measures because employees are entitled to at least 30 days advance written notice before removal or suspension under the Code of Federal Regulations.

Where employees have committed crimes that would require jail time (or are reasonably believed to have committed such crimes), the advance notice required is only 7 days.

The regulations presume that employees will remain working during the advance notice period, unless their presence poses a threat, is too disruptive or jeopardizes government interests, the IG noted.

The IG recommended that EPA tighten the policies and procedures for approving and documenting administrative leave. Agency officials concurred with the recommendations and have begun taking steps to do so.

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