WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Oversight Committee blasted the Environmental Protection Agency Thursday for what he called "glaring management failures" that included promoting a senior employee even though he had been accused of sexual harassment and allowing three other employees to continue working at the agency despite admitting they watched pornography on the job.
"We've seen numerous examples of fraud, unprofessional behavior, cronyism and outright theft at the EPA," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. "It is well past time for someone to be held accountable for these management failings."
Chaffetz and other lawmakers said they were disturbed that lax management at the EPA appears to have continued even after John C. Beale, a former deputy assistant administrator, pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges that he stole nearly $900,000 over more than a decade by falsely claiming he was working undercover for the CIA.
The latest case involves Peter Jutro, who was named to lead the EPA's Office of Homeland Security last year even though an inspector general's report said senior officials were aware of multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him.
The IG's office told the Oversight Committee Thursday that Jutro "engaged in conduct and exchanges considered to be unwelcome" with at least 17 women, including a 21-year-old intern at the Smithsonian Institution. The IG's report said Jutro made sexually suggestive comments and engaged in inappropriate behavior with at least 16 women from 2004 to July 2014. Behavior cited included unwelcome touching, hugging, kissing and photographing of women.
Jutro retired in January as officials were attempting to interview him about the allegations. Patrick Sullivan, an assistant inspector general, testified that a "lack of due diligence" by senior EPA officials allowed at least six additional women to be harassed by Jutro after allegations were first reported prior to January 2014. Jutro led the homeland security office from February 2014 to last August, when he was placed on paid administrative leave.
Chaffetz called Jutro a "serial sexual harasser" and said senior EPA managers were "aware of his history of harassing women, but continued to promote him."
Officials never interviewed a direct supervisor who had warned Jutro several times about his unacceptable behavior, Chaffetz said. "By turning a blind eye, EPA management allowed at least six more women to be harassed by Mr. Jutro," Chaffetz said.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said Thursday the agency "does not tolerate harassment in the workplace and finds such conduct completely unacceptable."
When senior EPA officials learned of the complaint by the Smithsonian intern, they immediately reported it to the inspector general and terminated Jutro's duties as acting chief of the homeland security office, Purchia said. EPA also worked "collaboratively" with the IG to ensure that Jutro was barred from the EPA building, she said.
While informal allegations about Jutro were made prior to 2014, the information apparently "was not shared with decision makers" involved in assigning Jutro to lead the homeland security office, Purchia said.
Stanley Meiburg, acting deputy administrator for the EPA, testified that Jutro and other employees who engaged in misconduct "are not representative of the broader workforce" at the agency.
The IG's report also said at least three EPA employees have been caught watching pornography on the job. One case resulted in a criminal conviction, while another employee retired. A third employee remains on paid leave pending removal by the agency.