April 18, 2002
Ombudsman facing transfer threatens to resign from post
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — A showdown between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ombudsman and his superiors intensified Wednesday with word that ombudsman Robert Martin would resign rather than accept a forced transfer within the agency that he believes will undercut his independence.
“His integrity, as well as the integrity of his work, will be totally compromised” by the transfer, Martin’s spokesman Hugh Kaufman said.
Martin, who was in Colorado on government business, was unavailable to discuss his future plans. But Kaufman, his chief investigator, said Martin authorized him to reveal the possibility of resigning.
A federal judge last week dismissed Martin’s claim that he was being transferred in retaliation for criticizing the EPA. Martin is hoping the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that
investigates illegal action against government employees, will act on a request filed Wednesday and stop the move by the end of this week.
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman ordered the transfer last November, saying the ombudsman would enjoy greater independence under Inspector General Nikki Tinsley than in his
current location in the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.
Despite assurances from government attorneys, Martin contends he will lose his independence under Tinsley. For example, as an employee of the inspector general, he will need permission to
talk with members of Congress or the media. That arrangement would act as a muzzle on him since the majority of complaints the ombudsman receives are from lawmakers, Kaufman said.
The ombudsman’s responsibilities include fielding questions from the public, reviewing agency cleanup plans at Superfund sites and making recommendations to the EPA to change those
Martin was expected to return to Washington as early as Wednesday night. The EPA planned to begin moving his files today.
Kaufman’s revelation that Martin might resign came after several lawmakers criticized the transfer, saying it would compromise Martin’s effectiveness.
Appearing outside the Capitol, Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrats from New York City, and Dennis Kucinich, D-Cleveland, called on Whitman to cancel the move.
Kaufman and Nadler alleged that EPA officials attempted a surprise move of Martin’s files at 8 a.m. Wednesday but were turned back by an employee because they did not have the required paperwork.
“What I worry (about) is they might go through those files and deep six those that might be embarrassing,” said Nadler, who has praised Martin for his independent assessment of health
risks at the World Trade Center site.
EPA officials countered that no attempt was made to move the files Wednesday.
“No one attempted to move anything,” said Eileen McMahon, a spokesman for the inspector general. What actually occurred Wednesday was a meeting to discuss the move, she said. “The
whole idea was to have a seamless transfer so the ombudsman’s office would not be prevented
from doing their work in any way,” she said.
Whitman wants the move completed by Monday, according to a memo from an EPA official.