WASHINGTON -- The head of the largest union representing Environmental Protection Agency employees says agency leaders are showing a "failure to manage." The top of the agency, the union leader said, has a "'country club' mentality" when it comes to dealing with top managers.
When problems are identified at the agency, American Federation of Government Employees Council 238 President Karen Kellen said in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, "responsibility for those problems always flows down to the lowest level employee rather than staying with the manager who oversaw and presumably is ultimately responsible for activities within that organization."
Union representatives, she wrote in the letter, "continuously see managers getting away with behavior that gets our rank and file employees suspended or fired."
The letter comes after McCarthy testified at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in late June. Kellen expressed concern about some comments McCarthy made during the hearing about potential changes to civil service regulations that the union fears would make it easier to fire employees accused of misconduct.
The EPA has been criticized for several recent incidents, including the discovery in 2013 of a warehouse where contractors had set up "man caves" that included an exercise area and pinups. The agency also drew scrutiny when it was revealed that an EPA official had lied about being a CIA agent and bilked the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the letter, Kellen says the "man caves" situation was a perfect example of a time that lower-level employees were suspended over the findings, while the head of that office was not disciplined. And in the case of the fake CIA agent, Kellen says, staffers were ignored when they tried to report his misconduct. And now it is lower-level employees, rather than managers, who are facing "additional layers of bureaucracy" in response to the situation, she said.
"Managers should be held to a higher standard because they are our leaders; they create the agenda and make the decisions," Kellen wrote. "At EPA, the buck does not stop at the top; rather, it rolls down onto those least able to defend themselves and with the least say in decisions … Administrator McCarthy, we don't need to make it easier to fire employees. You need to hold your managers and senior staff accountable for their behavior."
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said in an email that McCarthy "believes it is in the public interest to ensure that the Agency moves swiftly to initiate corrective action when any employee is found to have engaged in wrongdoing. However, she also takes very seriously the integrity of due process protections afforded to all employees in the case of removals and other disciplinary actions."
"EPA holds managers and employees to the same high standards, and will address supervisors who engage in wrongdoing or fail to exercise due care in their oversight responsibilities as we would any other employee," Purchia said.