Tuesday :: Apr 29, 2003

Christie Whitman and Her Highly Paid Valets

by Steve

Aha! Now we know why EPA enforcement actions are down at the Bush EPA. Christine Todd Whitman has turned her investigative force into a cadre of valets. I can’t wait for the congressional investigation into this. (Yeah, right!)

Some of the federal EPA's highest-paid and best-trained pollution cops are being diverted to serve as personal bodyguards, chauffeurs and in some cases errand-runners for the agency's administrator, Christie Whitman, high-level EPA sources say. The diversion of the agents parallels a significant drop in the number of cases the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has referred to the Justice Department for prosecution.

"We are talking about highly trained agents who go up against major corporate violators of our nation's environmental laws, companies armed with the best defense lawyers," said one enforcement manager. "To have agents of this level of training acting as a valet service for a sub-Cabinet administrator is a misuse of taxpayer funds."

EPA officials at headquarters also view Whitman's security needs much differently than do enforcement managers who work directly with agents in the field. Four high-level enforcement managers, however, told The Bee they were not aware of any threats against Whitman.

"If headquarters was aware of any threat at all, they never advised any of us in the field," said a former enforcement manager who had agents accompany Whitman on two trips. The sources asked to remain anonymous because they fear retaliation for speaking out.

Whitman, who does not head a Cabinet-level agency but has Cabinet rank, routinely travels with at least one agent from headquarters permanently assigned to her protective detail, plus at least four other armed investigators pulled from EPA offices in the region she is visiting, the sources said.

"Are any of your agents interested in Key Largo, Fla. trip Feb. 13-w/Whitman detail? I need a total of 10," John Martin, an EPA headquarters official, asked in an e-mail to field managers early this year.

EPA investigators flanked Whitman on Friday upon her arrival in Paris for a conference with her counterparts from several European countries, according to her top spokesman, Joe Martyak.

No previous EPA chief has routinely traveled with an armed entourage as large as Whitman's, these sources said. Carol Browner, the EPA administrator under President Clinton, said through a spokeswoman Friday that she "didn't have security." And former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said he recalled seeing Browner unattended at various Washington events.

The diversion has brewed contempt among some field managers and case agents who have seen the size of their investigative force shrink in the past two years because of budget cuts and assignments to anti-terrorism task forces. "It's probably one of the most demoralized places I ever worked at, and I've worked at a lot of cesspools," said an enforcement manager with more than 25 years' experience with police agencies.

While some field agents jump at the chance to travel with the EPA administrator, others find it demeaning to have veteran investigators reduced to reserving restaurant tables.

"You always have to find a route with a Starbucks," one source said of the directives from headquarters.

Some of the things that are important to Whitman, according to the gripes:

Several requirements seem unrelated to her security.

"Call Governor Whitman 'governor,' not 'ma'am' or 'administrator,' says a recent headquarters directive to field agents preparing for a Whitman trip.

"Make the car warm or cool before Governor Whitman gets in and keep it that way," the memo states. "If you have to smoke during the visit, please do it outside the governor's presence. ... Have a map available but try not to use it in her presence.

"Find a jazz station or classical musical station for the limo. Keep it on low. She will adjust sound if she wants it louder."

If headquarters is unhappy with how the trip was handled -- if Whitman had to wait in traffic, for example -- the office chief can expect to be chewed out, the sources said.

I would cynically guess that this was one clever way for Rove to push out a moderate cabinet-level operative so that Bush can replace her with a corporate official who would make things even worse than they already are. But Whitman has so little influence on the environmental decisions now, and very little moderating abilities on the industry-owned Bush crew that any such move gains the Bushies nothing except the brazenness of replacing her with industry ownership of the EPA prior to the election. That in itself would make the environment an issue that Rove didn’t want to have to address next year.

Steve :: 10:43 PM :: Comments (0) :: Digg It!