EPA headquarters in Washington.

EPA headquarters in Washington. Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com

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EPA Clashes With IG Over Destroyed Documents

Auditors say officials at the agency are impeding its work.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to downplay allegations that officials there destroyed documents rather than turn them over to the agency's watchdog, though investigators maintain the officials took the actions to impede their work.

The dispute began last month, when EPA’s inspector general issued a “management alert” that personnel within the Office of the Chief Financial Officer “destroyed an employee’s notes.” While conducting a routine audit of the security of EPA’s budget systems, the IG requested an assessment report of the CFO office’s use of cloud technology and any accompanying analysis. EPA officials told the IG that the agency was prohibited from sharing the information due to a non-disclosure agreement and had therefore destroyed notes related to the analysis.

The IG said EPA officials were aware of the audit, which the IG announced in 2017, when the officials first made their notes and subsequently destroyed them. In a March 2019 letter to Holly Greaves, EPA’s CFO, the IG said Greaves' staff acted improperly and should have preserved the notes, turned them over to the IG when the investigators asked for them and voiced any concerns about an NDA at that time.

In its assessment report of the cloud systems, EPA discovered 180 vulnerabilities. Without the since-destroyed analysis, the IG said, it has no way of knowing if EPA officials examined the impact of those potential shortfalls.

Greaves responded to the IG’s criticism by reiterating the restrictions of her office’s NDA and stressing the insignificance of the destroyed documents.

“In hindsight, although we could have been clearer in explaining the informal nature of the review and the use of the publicly available spreadsheet, at every step of the way, OCFO complied fully with all requests to the greatest extent possible,” Greaves said. “There was no attempt to deprive the OIG of timely access to any document related to the audit.”

She added the notes did not constitute a federal record that needed to be preserved, as they only contained a “few checks or tick marks here and there.”

In a new letter made public on Friday, the IG criticized Greaves for attempting to downplay the significance of the documents. The IG noted OCFO personnel said they made full annotations of a spreadsheet regarding the controls in place on EPA’s budget systems, and subsequently destroyed them.

“We consider any written indications of agency reviews to be notes required to be provided to the OIG upon request,” the investigators said. “The OIG maintains its initial position that the destruction of this information, at a minimum, limits and impedes the OIG’s access to EPA information.”

President Trump has faced criticism for questioning the role of inspectors general, leaving posts vacant and failing to provide what some watchdog groups view as adequate funding. His administration has also rebuffed independent investigators on multiple occasions.

Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.com.