oversight

Environmental Protection Agency | EPA Region 4 - Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and Mississippi | 18-25 | Unknown

Published by the Office of Special Counsel on 2018-06-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

            Elizabeth Wilde’s comments on EPA 2-16-18 Supplemental Response
                                     March 5, 2018

Ms. Wilde has three comments on EPA’s latest supplemental response:

1. Commitment to Protect Children and Pregnant Women for Lead Exposure Still Lacking
Apart from vague aspiratory language about public education and outreach, the EPA
supplemental response made only this concrete statement with respect to protecting children and
pregnant women from lead exposure during repairs and renovations in older buildings:

       “Region 4 collects evidence of occupants who are pregnant or may be children under age
       18 if it can be obtained during the inspection either from the records reviewed or directly
       communicated by the company representative who is interviewed during the inspection.
       If the information cannot be obtained during the inspection, then the case development
       officer to which the file is assigned will follow-up to confirm occupancy at the time
       renovation work occurred. This information is then used as described above in
       calculating the penalties consistent with the Enforcement Response Policy.”

Two things of note:

 A. This practice has no reference, even to a protocol. Absent a written procedure, nothing
prevents lapses in this practice – even assuming it is followed now (see Comment 3, below).

B. By its terms, this practice is limited to Region 4. This geographic limitation suggests that in
the rest of the country there is zero follow-up to determine the presence or absence of children
and pregnant women.

As a basic matter of public health, EPA should make an affirmative regulatory commitment to
ensure that women and pregnant women across all Regions are not exposed to lead dust during
repairs and renovations. Protecting these most vulnerable individuals is the main purpose of the
program and EPA should not continue to treat it as an afterthought.

2. Management Improvements Long Overdue
While some of the steps taken are salutary, they underline how poorly the Lead-based Paint
Program had been run previously. For example, EPA Region 4 congratulates itself on hiring a
contractor in May 2017 to set up a “robust filing system” for enforcement and inspection file
management. The prior lack of a filing system denotes just how serious the problems Ms.
Wilde’s disclosure highlighted.

Moreover, the data management improvements are limited to Region 4. This suggests that
management of enforcement records may remain deficient in other regions.

It should also be noted that the listed recent improvements in inspector training and credentialing
tracking confirm the thrust of Ms. Wilde’s disclosure.

3. Agency Fails to Address Lack of Accountability
Although EPA in their latest response addresses new protocols and processes, the Agency does
not address the lack of accountability that caused the failures in the Lead-based Paint Program
that Ms. Wilde disclosed.

When Ms. Wilde first began working in this program in 2003, the agency had adequate protocols
and processes but over time as management personnel changed, EPA adherence declined. Some
of the basic failures Ms. Wilde documented included:

      The Agency ignored and then discontinued its existing electronic database to track
       inspection and enforcement action and status. There was no longer an electronic tracking
       of inspection or case status;

      The Agency also abandoned its paper filing system of inspections and cases. In so doing,
       it ignored the requirement that cases be organized by status and year. Files were arranged
       only by file number and/or by alphabetic name of the company;

      Log books that all inspectors entered their inspections into and log books that tracked all
       assigned case numbers were “lost” and discontinued;

      The Agency stopped enforcing the requirement that senior staff review and sign off on all
       inspection documentation and enforcement decisions; and

      The tracking of inspector training and certification status had been the responsibility of
       the Enforcement Coordinator, but when Elmore Johnson took over, that practice ceased.

As a result of the Agency ignoring its previous protocols and processes, the Region fielded
uncertified inspectors; had inspections certified in ICIS that did not exist or were completely
inadequate; many inspections where violations were documented, enforcement action was
recommended but no action was taken; and inspections of facilities with violations received EPA
letters stating that EPA found no violations. Finally, the EPA Inspector General confirmed the
illegal disposal of inspection and enforcement files and other legal documents.

Staff did not follow the existing protocols and management did not correct the failures. This
occurred despite the fact that Ms/ Wilde briefed the Section Chief, Branch Chief, Deputy
Division Director and the Director about these problems many times. No one has been held
responsible or appropriately disciplined for any of the failures in the program, not even when
requested by the Inspector General for illegally destroying and disposing of many documents, or
when it was discovered that inspectors falsely claimed to have conducted Inspections they had
not.

Even in this supplemental response, there is still no recognition of, or planned action to ensure
accountability, without which, no improvement can be assured.

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