GAO Confirms EPA Stripped Ombudsman Authority

Nov 13, 2002 Issues: Energy and Environment

WASHINGTON, DC - A General Accounting Office (GAO) report released on November 13, and obtained by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), raises serious concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) move of the Ombudsman office to the Office of the Inspector General within the EPA.

"This GAO report confirms that the ombudsman function no longer exists at EPA," said Rep. Nadler.  "Since the function was dissolved, the people of New York have not heard from the EPA IG or the acting Ombudsman. The people of Ground Zero need an Ombudsman now more than ever.  I hope Administrator Whitman will follow this report's recommendations and stop this charade with the IG."

Rep. Nadler (D-NY) who represents Ground Zero, and asked former-Ombudsman Robert Martin, and Chief Investigator Hugh Kaufman, to review the agency's response to the collapse of the World Trade Center in January, has criticized the EPA for moving the Ombudsman to the OIG.

The EPA Ombudsman office was created to independently represent community concerns about solid waste and emergency environmental cleanups to the EPA.  Earlier this year, the Ombudsman office was reorganized and moved from the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). The new GAO report concludes that the reorganization has failed to make the office more responsive to community concerns and, in fact, significantly hampers the independent operation of the EPA ombudsman. This includes elimination of the ombudsman office’s ability to independently determine which cases to pursue or to exercise independent control over the budget and staff resources.  More importantly, the report confirms that the OIG is legally prohibited from performing a majority of the ombudsman function, such as engaging in programmatic activities, holding public hearings and informally resolving disputes.

"This report contains some of the most compelling evidence, to date, that it is crucial that Congress pass legislation -- immediately -- to restore an independent and effective Ombudsman's office at the EPA," concluded Rep. Nadler.