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The federal Environmental Protection Agency wields enormous power but also displays, “an absence of even basic internal controls,” as an inspector general testified during October 1 hearings in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on the EPA’s “secret agent.”
When he applied with the EPA in 1989, John Beale claimed he had worked for former senator John Tunney of California. He didn’t, and nobody bothered to check. Beale said he served in Vietnam, where he contracted malaria and therefore needed a handicapped parking spot. He didn’t serve in Vietnam, and didn’t contract malaria. But nobody checked those claims either and Beale got his handicapped parking spot.
In 1994, Beale claimed he was a secret agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. Even Jacques Clouseau would attempt to verify that whopper but the mighty EPA failed to check. That enabled Beale to take more than two years off, with full pay, claiming to be in London, India and Pakistan when he was actually kicking back at his vacation home in Massachusetts. Beale pulled off his CIA ruse for nearly 20 years, flying first-class all the way.
Liars and frauds do not make good employees and the hearing produced no evidence that as an EPA “policy advisor” Beale did anything of value. But the EPA eagerly ponied up “retention bonuses,” authorized by, among others, the EPA’s Robert Brenner, who co-owned a vacation home with Beale, and is now staying at Brenner’s house. What a cozy world.
As the Washington Post noted, “For reasons the EPA cannot explain, Beale continued to draw a paycheck until April 30, 19 months after his retirement dinner cruise on the Potomac River and 23 months after he announced he would retire.” All told, Beale bilked taxpayers of nearly $1 million. He has repaid nearly $900,000 but still owes more than half a million in a money judgment, and faces three years in prison. But Beale is still collecting his generous federal retirement. So in a real sense, the fake secret agent man got away with it.
Committee members fulminated in fine style and wondered how much more of this is going on. Doubtless, a great deal. The EPA has other serious problems but frauds like John Beale surely flourish in other federal agencies, which also pay absurd retention bonuses. Such bonuses have been on the rise since 2009, another indicator that waste and fraud are inherent in the system.