EPA watchdog says Trump appointees kept laid-off employees on payroll

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Federal prosecutors have refused to press charges against any of the OIG’s findings, and the two have since left the agency – Jackson in February 2020 to be vice president of government and political affairs at the National Mining Association, and Munoz on January 20, when the Biden administration took office.

Jackson and Munoz did not immediately return requests for comment on Friday.

The new OIG report, which is heavily drafted to hide the identities of the two EPA employees who continued to be paid after leaving the agency, explicitly blames Jackson and Munoz for inappropriate actions that cost them the agency large sums.

Details available in the report show that one of the two anonymous employees was fired from the EPA in 2017. Munoz told investigators Jackson asked him to make sure the person continued to receive his salary after his dismissal. .

Mr. Munoz explained that the ‘solution’, which he believed to be Mr. Jackson’s idea, was to tell the EPA’s Human Resources Management Division that [the person] was on an extended telecommuting schedule so that [they] would receive a salary “after their dismissal, according to the report. “Mr. Munoz explained that he believed Mr. Jackson would not be happy if he had not followed Mr. Jackson’s order to obtain additional pay for [the person] after [their] Termination.”

Federal law does not allow severance pay, which Jackson and Munoz acknowledged to investigators in voluntary interviews they were aware of.

In a July 2019 interview, Jackson told investigators he took this step because he “didn’t think it was really fair to [the person] what was happening.”

The report also states that a second employee in 2018 was ordered to resign, but the person refused and was escorted out of the building by an armed guard, according to the report. Jackson’s explanation as to why the person was kicked out is redacted in the report, but Jackson told investigators he continued to provide them with a salary “to avoid a” disruption in service “” so that they could seek employment. other federal job.

In total, the first person improperly received $ 14,181.38 following termination, while the second person received a total of $ 23,731.85.

Jackson, a longtime Republican Hill member before joining the EPA, managed to avoid getting caught up in the string of ethical scandals that led to the resignation of former administrator Scott Pruitt in 2018. The New Report , which was finalized in March and has never been released before. , sheds additional light on Jackson’s bitter relationship with the EPA’s internal watchdog.

Their animosity spilled over into public in late 2019 after the OIG took the rare step of publicly accusing Jackson of blocking a separate investigation into whether he had pressured an outside scientist who chaired an advisory board to quash a separate investigation. ‘he changes his testimony to Congress.

The report says the OIG had already polled Jackson on compensation issues when that separate investigation exploded. Other Trump appointees at the time backed Jackson, with Matt Leopold, then General Counsel, issuing a memo claiming that the OIG’s quest to determine how Jackson obtained the scientist’s testimony did not serve his role as a dog of keep. (The Biden administration withdrew this memo in April.)

In addition to his public fight with the EPA’s BIG, the Home Department’s Inspector General separately revealed last year that Jackson had spearheaded the hiring of a senior interior official’s son-in-law for a position at the EPA. The son-in-law was fired just five months later for unspecified “professional misconduct”, POLITICO reported in August.

The new OIG report also criticized Munoz for receiving an inappropriate raise and allegedly at fault with time and attendance.

In May 2018, Jackson created a new position for Munoz as Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator for the EPA’s Southwest Pacific Region, headquartered in San Francisco. However, Munoz’s assigned duty station was his hometown Las Vegas and where he was the Nevada state director of the Trump campaign. The EPA has a financial center in the city.

Federal regulations did not allow a new appointment like Munoz’s with a pay rise, but Jackson gave Munoz a four-step raise at that time, the OIG found. In total, it cost the federal government $ 40,575.11 until Nov. 7, 2020, after which Munoz was converted to a “top-level pay scale” until his resignation on Jan. 20, according to the report.

The OIG examined whether Munoz had reported to his official duty station and determined that Munoz “provided false information” about his work during 14 of the 15 pay periods between May and December 2018.

Reviews of phone and email logs and other recordings often showed that he was often not present at the EPA office in Las Vegas. Among other things, the OIG discovered that Munoz had kept DMV appointments and encountered a furniture delivery to his home during alleged working hours.

“Mr. Munoz told us he knew he told” a censored agency worker “that he was working at the Las Vegas Finance Center to make sure she didn’t ask any further questions about it. where he was during the pay period, ”the report says. “EPA employees assigned to the Las Vegas Financial Center have provided statements describing Mr. Munoz as not being in the office most of the time. According to [redacted sources], when Mr. Munoz entered the office, he left around noon or during lunch and did not return. Munoz told investigators he “would consider himself working because he was reachable by phone when not in the office.”

The total loss to the EPA for Munoz’s alleged misconduct was $ 55,150.44, according to the report, which only looked at its activities for the period May-December 2018.

With both men leaving the agency and federal prosecutors refusing to press charges, the OIG report was “provided to EPA administrator Michael S. Regan for any action deemed appropriate.”

“The EPA will review the report,” agency spokesman Tim Carroll said in a statement.


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