EPA enforcement chief eyes shuffle of criminal program

A top Environmental Protection Agency official is reportedly considering a major overhaul of the agency's troubled criminal enforcement division's management and may for the first time tap an attorney to run the program instead of a more traditional candidate coming from the ranks of law enforcement or federal environmental law prosecutors, EPA sources said.

J.P. Suarez, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assistance, may appoint the attorney to head EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training. The current OCEFT chief, Leo D'Amico, submitted his resignation to agency officials earlier this year, reportedly in part out of frustration with Suarez's refusal to boost the program's budget despite growing counterterrorism and personal security duties. Suarez refused repeated requests for comment.

The possibility of a lawyer replacing D'Amico also has caused concern within EPA, these sources said, since environmental attorneys, who generally come from the ranks of industry law firms, are considered more inclined to work with violators instead of aggressively seeking prosecutions.

Appointing a lawyer to run OCEFT would also run counter to the findings of a 1990 GAO report on EPA's criminal enforcement program. The report, which was never publicly released, argued that the program should be operated by an "experienced" criminal investigator instead of an attorney and cited a 1986 internal EPA analysis indicating that "supervisory special agents of field offices should report only to a single chief agency investigator-not to an attorney or anyone not trained and experienced as a criminal investigator."

The 1986 Enforcement Program Management Review also recommended that "[OCEFT] management be centralized with a clear chain of command to a skilled chief investigator," according to a copy of the GAO report obtained by CongressDaily.

The report noted that both the FBI and the Department of Justice also recommended the criminal program be managed by someone with a law enforcement background.

Agency sources said the question of D'Amico's replacement is part of a long-term struggle between the OCEFT and the rest of the enforcement office.

One agent said that over the last several years, OECA has become increasingly dominated by officials who believe so-called compliance assistance and partnerships with industry are a better way to ensure companies do not violate the law than traditional criminal investigations and prosecutions.

As a result, OCEFT has often taken a backseat to other priorities, such as the creation of EPA's network of compliance assistance centers, and has in some cases been viewed with hostility by OECA's top managers.