June 26, 2002
Ombudsman’s backers out in force at hearing
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — Several lawmakers called Tuesday for the reinstatement of Robert Martin, former ombudsman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and for legislation that
would make him completely independent of EPA control.
Martin won repeated praise during a 2 1/2-hour Senate committee hearing for his work as ombudsman during the past 10 years.
The ombudsman reviews citizen complaints and investigates EPA actions at federally supervised hazardous waste sites such as the
Industrial Excess Landfill in Stark County’s Lake Township.
His work came to an end in April when Martin resigned, saying his transfer within the EPA destroyed the independence he needed to
conduct impartial reviews of EPA decision making.
The hearing was a friendly forum for Martin, with attendance from three senators who have been strong backers of Martin and his
quest for independence within the EPA.
It attracted a large audience, including New York residents who said if it weren’t for Martin, the EPA never would have recognized the
danger of toxic particles spewed throughout lower Manhattan by the collapse of the World Trade Center.
Among those testifying was Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who slammed the EPA for ignoring health complaints from city residents
after the terrorist attack, and denying that the agency had any authority to assess contamination inside buildings.
Martin and his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman, “were able to tell us what the EPA should have done, could have done and has
done at other hazardous waste sites across the nation,” Nadler said.
In Manhattan, as at other toxic waste sites across the nation, Martin made recommendations to the EPA that caused the agency to
recognize a problem or reverse or modify its cleanup plans.
Without Martin’s involvement at the Shattuck Superfund site near Denver, said Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Col., the EPA “would have been
able to successfully hide the truth from the very people it is charged to protect.”
Martin investigated the site in 1999 and persuaded the EPA to remove radioactive waste that the agency had planned to keep at
Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said the EPA’s mishandling of the Industrial Excess
Landfill in Lake Township is a case study of why an ombudsman is needed.
Earlier this year, the head of the EPA, Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, transferred Martin to the EPA inspector general’s
office, where she said he would have more independence and resources to conduct investigations.
Martin, who had long resisted what he said were EPA efforts to silence him, stepped down, saying the move actually would destroy
“I was being sent to an unclassified position in the office of inspector general where frankly I would no longer be ombudsman,” he told the committee. He added that the ombudsman “cannot exist within the office of inspector general.”
An official with the General Accounting Office, which last year urged the EPA to give Martin more independence, said the transfer of
the ombudsman function to the inspector general falls short of what is needed.
“If the EPA intends to have an ombudsman function that is consistent with the way the position is typically defined in the ombudsman community, placing the national ombudsman within the (inspector general office) does not achieve that objective,” said David G. Wood, a director at the General Accounting Office, which is an investigative arm of Congress.
Not only does the ombudsman still lack the independence that is needed, but the transfer has worsened the situation, he said. Wood
said prior to the transfer, the ombudsman could independently determine which cases to pursue.
“However, according to the EPA, the inspector general has the overall responsibility for the work performed by the office, and no
single staff member, including the national ombudsman, has the authority to select and prioritize his or her own caseload,” he said.
Nikki Tinsley, the inspector general, countered that the ombudsman would get more resources for investigations in the inspector
general office. She said the ombudsman will work as part of a team at the office.
Under questioning, Tinsley said she wouldn’t change the ombudsman’s reports unless they were inaccurate. She added that she doesn’t get in volved in determining which cases the office will investigate.
But she acknowledged she has the authority to change a report or prevent Martin from taking on an investigation.
“I could say no,” she said.
“That’s the point I’m trying to make,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who has sponsored legislation to create a congressionally
authorized ombudsman position.
During the past several weeks, the Office of Special Counsel, a government agency that investigates improper actions against
federal employees, has been talking with the EPA about Martin’s possible return as ombudsman.
The EPA has not decided if it will accept the special counsel’s offer to mediate Martin’s return.
Several senators pressed for Martin’s return to the ombudsman position.
After hearing that work on Martin’s unfinished investigations has been going slower than expected because of Martin’s absence, Sen.
Arlen Specter, R-Pa., asked Martin and Tinsley if they would be willing to sit down and discuss Martin’s return.
Martin said yes. Tinsley said she wasn’t sure if she could do that since her office is not involved in the discussions with the special
“I’d like to see you work out an arrangement (with Martin) if you’re really serious,” Specter told Tinsley. “I want you to meet with
Martin. He’s prepared to do that.”
During the past two months, the inspector general’s office has been reviewing 130 boxes of case files moved from Martin’s office, a
job made more difficult by Martin’s absence, Tinsley said.
Asking Tinsley when work would resume on the investigations, Specter said: “What are you doing besides reviewing files? When are you going to do something? When are you going to act?”
Tinsley said, “We won’t be able to do anything until we finish (reviewing) the files.”
Project On Government Oversight report on IEL, as presented to Senate