Lawmakers upset over job cuts at EPA's watchdog

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers are investigating plans by the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting inspector general to lay off 60 full-time staff in his office while he earns a $15,000 bonus.

The House Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials said it is worried that removing that many employees, mostly auditors, criminal investigators and senior program analysts, would undermine the effectiveness of the office.

The Office of the Inspector General, OIG, performs audits, evaluations and investigations of EPA and its contractors. With less staff, it could be more difficult for the OIG to make sure the EPA is enforcing anti-pollution rules and environmental regulations at oil refineries, power plants and other regulated facilities.

Bill Roderick, the acting inspector general, has told employees a proposed $5.1 million cut in the office’s budget for the 2008 spending year would require employee buyouts to reduce staffing levels.

Democratic Rep. Albert Wynn of Maryland, the subcommittee’s chairman, and Rep. John Dingell, the Michigan Democrat who heads the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Congress has not approved those White House budget cuts and the worker buyouts are premature.

In a letter this week to EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, the lawmakers asked for copies of all documents related to the employee buyouts and the justification for a $15,000 bonus given to Roderick last December just before Johnson approved the buyout plan.

“It is disturbing that EPA would give a $15,000 bonus to an acting inspector general apparently intent on significantly undermining the ability of the office to detect waste, fraud and abuse,” Dingell said.

“I am very concerned that the office charged with conducting oversight of the EPA is squandering taxpayer dollars,” said Wynn. “Ultimately, this will cause an unnecessary loss of experienced personnel.”

The lawmakers asked the EPA to provide the requested information by April 30.