EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during a media availability in June.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks during a media availability in June. Alex Brandon / AP

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EPA Administrator Says Culprit for Racist Messages Was 'Held Accountable'

Environmental Protection Agency officials last year sought to reassure employees following a spat of racist messages at agency facilities.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler told agency employees Tuesday that officials had identified a contractor as the culprit behind a number of racist notes and messages found in EPA facilities and “held them accountable.”

Last year, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson announced to the agency that officials were aware of a series of racist messages being left on whiteboards at EPA’s Office of Public Affairs, and sought to reassure employees that anyone responsible would be held accountable.

The whiteboard writings made derogatory references to “the negro man” and included the n-word. Earlier in 2018, someone left a printout of two apes on the desk of an African-American employee in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention in Northern Virginia, which addressed the staffer using the n-word and included the message “back to the jungle u go!”

In an agency-wide email obtained by Government Executive, Wheeler reiterated that offensive notes and messages are “not acceptable anywhere at the EPA.”

“We took many measures over the past number of months to find the person responsible for writing these messages,” Wheeler wrote. “I am updating you to say we have found the person, a contractor, and held them accountable . . . Again, I encourage anyone who has experienced or witnessed offensive language or actions or is aware of such behaviors to report it immediately.”

Wheeler did not say whether the person in question was responsible for the messages at the Office of Public Affairs, the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, or both. He also did not explain how the person was “held accountable.” EPA did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Wheeler said the leadership of EPA is committed to making sure the agency is welcoming to all employees and free of hate speech.

“The EPA’s career and political leadership will continue to take all steps to ensure an environment where every employee has the opportunity to maximize their potential, reach their professional goals and contribute to our shared mission of protecting human health and the environment,” he wrote. “Creating that safe environment for our employees remains my top priority.”

Eric Katz contributed to this story