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EPA Watchdog Says Trump Officials Keep laid-off employees on payroll

Federal attorneys declined to prosecute the OIG’s findings, and both men have since left the agency – Jackson in February 2020 to become vice president of government and political affairs at the National Mining Association, and Munoz on January 20 when the Biden government took office.

Jackson and Munoz did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The new OIG report, heavily redacted to hide the identity of the two EPO employees who continued to be paid after the agency left, specifically accuses Jackson and Munoz of improper conduct that cost the agency significant sums of money.

Details from the report show that one of the two anonymous employees was fired by the EPA in 2017. Munoz told investigators that Jackson directed him to ensure the person continued to receive their salary after they were released.

“Mr. Munoz stated that the ‘solution’ he believed was Mr. Jackson’s idea was to tell EPA’s Human Resources Department that [the person] had an extended teleworking plan, so that [they] Salary, “said the report.” Mr. Munoz stated that he believed that Mr. Jackson would not be happy if he had not followed Mr. Jackson’s order to receive additional pay [the person] after this [their] Completion.”

Federal law does not provide for severance pay, which Jackson and Munoz conceded to investigators in voluntary interviews they knew.

In an interview in July 2019, Jackson told investigators that he took this measure because he “didn’t think it was really fair,” [the person] what went down. “

The report also said that a second employee was ordered to quit in 2018, but the person refused and, according to the report, was escorted from the building by an armed security guard. Jackson’s explanation of why the person was forced to come out is blacked out in the report, but Jackson told investigators that he continued to pay them salary “to avoid a ‘downtime'” so they could look for another federal job.

In total, the first person falsely received $ 14,181.38 after being quit, while the second received a total of $ 23,731.85.

Jackson, a long-time Republican Hill employee before joining the EPA, was able to avoid becoming embroiled in the string of ethics scandals that led to the resignation of former administrator Scott Pruitt in 2018. The new report, finalized in March and previously unreported, sheds additional light on Jackson’s bitter relationship with the EPA’s internal guard.

Their hostility spread to the public in late 2019 after the OIG took the rare step of publicly accusing Jackson of preventing a separate investigation into whether he had pressured an outside scientist who chaired an advisory panel to give her testimony change before Congress.

The report reveals that the OIG was already investigating Jackson regarding the salary issues when that separate investigation exploded. Other Trump policy officials supported Jackson at the time, with Matt Leopold, then General Counsel, issuing a memo arguing that the OIG’s quest to find out exactly how Jackson got the scientist’s testimony of his role as a watchdog not served. (The Biden government withdrew this memo in April.)

In addition to his public battle with the EPA OIG, the Inspector General of the Home Office separately announced last year that Jackson had directed the recruitment of a senior home office’s son-in-law for a position with the EPA. The son-in-law was dismissed only five months later for unspecified “misconduct,” reported POLITICO in August.

The new OIG report also accused Munoz of receiving an inappropriate pay raise and allegedly committing time- and visit-related misconduct.

In May 2018, Jackson created a new position for Munoz as Senior Advisor to the Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Region of the EPA, based in San Francisco. Munoz’s assigned place of employment, however, was Las Vegas, his hometown, and where he was the state director for the Trump campaign in Nevada. The EPA maintains a financial center in the city.

Federal regulations didn’t allow a new appointment like Munoz’s to come with a raise, but Jackson gave Munoz a four-notch raise at the time, the OIG noted. In total, it cost the federal government $ 40,575.11 by November 7, 2020. Thereafter, Munoz was switched to a “senior level salary scale” until his resignation on January 20, the report said.

The OIG checked whether Munoz reported to his office and found that Munoz had made “false statements” about his work in 14 of the 15 pay periods between May and December 2018.

Reviews of phone and email logs and other records often revealed that he was often absent from the EPO’s Las Vegas office. Among other things, the OIG found that Munoz had met DMV deadlines and delivered furniture to his home during the alleged working hours.

“Mr. Munoz admitted to us that he knew he had to tell a blackened agency worker that he was working at the Las Vegas Finance Center to make sure she didn’t ask any more questions about it.” where he was during the pay period, “the report said.” EPA staff assigned to the Las Vegas Finance Center made statements describing Mr. Munoz’s out of the office most days [redacted sources]When Mr. Munoz entered the office, he left around noon or during lunch and did not return. “Munoz told investigators that he would” imagine working because he could be reached by phone when he was out of the office “.

The EPA’s total loss for Munoz’s alleged wrongdoing was $ 55,150.44, according to the report, which only examined its activities for the May-December 2018 period.

Because both the men had left the agency and the Federal Prosecutor’s Office refused to bring charges, the OIG report was “made available to EPO Administrator Michael S. Regan for any action deemed appropriate”.

“The EPA will review the report,” agency spokesman Tim Carroll said in a statement.

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