WASHINGTON — For years, a senior Environmental Protection Agency employee viewed pornography at work for up to six hours a day. Managers entered fraudulent pay records for work-from-home employees who did no work. A top EPA personnel manager arranged for paid internships for friends and family — and bonuses for her own daughter. Another employee was paid for more than a year after moving to a nursing home.
Those are among the allegations aired Wednesday at a congressional hearing into whether the EPA is capable of policing itself in the aftermath of the John Beale case.
Beale, a former deputy assistant administrator, was convicted last year of theft after he took an EPA paycheck and travel expenses for 13 years while falsely claiming to be out of the office serving as a CIA agent.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Beale's deception was "just the tip of EPA's fraudulent iceberg" and convened the hearing to figure out whether there are systemic management problems at the agency.
The most serious allegation came from investigator from the inspector general's office who testified she was assaulted while questioning an employee of the Office of Homeland Security, an EPA unit unrelated to the Cabinet department. Special Agent Elisabeth Heller Drake said Steven Williams, an EPA senior intelligence adviser, physically obstructed her as she attempted to investigate and that she would have arrested him if he wasn't a government official. Williams did not respond to a request for comment.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., called the October 2013 incident "one of the most disturbing things I've heard in 17 years in Congress. ... This is not part of your job description to go through that kind of hell."
The U.S. attorney's office declined to bring assault charges, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put a halt to the inspector general's investigation four days later, citing "discord, distrust and conflict" between the two offices. She also asked an outside inspector general to investigate the incident.
EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the incident "is an isolated instance and does not represent the manner in which the EPA and its Inspector General work cooperatively on a daily basis." She said the administrator called off the investigation "to ensure the safety of all EPA employees" and consult with outside agencies.
EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe told the committee that the EPA has cooperated with 2,600 inspector general audits and investigations since 2009. "The overwhelming majority of the approximately 16,000 EPA employees are dedicated, hardworking, professional public servants — a point on which I know the Inspector General agrees with me." He said he would instruct the Department of Homeland Security to turn over documents related to the investigation Wednesday.
Among other incidents the committee is investigating:
■ An unnamed high-level civil service employee had 7,000 pornographic files on his work computer and visited pornographic websites two to six hours a day since 2010. The Justice Department is investigating.
■ Office of Administration Director Renee Page sold jewelry and weight loss products from her office during business hours, according to an inspector general's report. The report said she also hired 17 family members and friends as interns, and that she arranged for her daughter, also an EPA employee, to get a cash bonus out of her budget. Page did not return an email seeking comment.
■ An EPA employee with a work-from-home job did no work for five years — and still earned a total of $600,000 and performance bonuses. She retired after an inspector general investigation.
■ Another unnamed employee kept getting regular paychecks for more than a year after moving to an assisted living facility. The Justice Department is investigating.