August 14, 2002
EPA agrees to mediate dispute with ex-ombudsman
By DORI MEINERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to third-party mediation of a long-running dispute with the
agency’s former ombudsman, who resigned rather than submit to an agency restructuring that he said would diminish his authority.
However, EPA officials postponed the first mediation session, scheduled for today, without offering a public explanation.
Former ombudsman Robert Martin, who resigned in April, said Tuesday that he wants to be able to complete his work on pending
cases. One of those cases involves the Industrial Excess Landfill in Stark County’s Lake Township.
“I have been requesting for some time now since my resignation the opportunity to finish my casework that has been pending with a
number of communities at time of my resignation,” Martin said. “To date, the EPA has not accepted my offer.”
Mediation is a voluntary process that would be conducted by the federal Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal
investigative agency that protects federal employees from specific “prohibited personnel practices,” particularly reprisal from
EPA spokesman Steffanie Bell confirmed that the EPA has agreed to mediation, but couldn’t explain why today’s scheduled session
was postponed. She said she is prohibited from discussing the case “pursuant to terms of the mediation agreement.”
But representatives from several government watchdog groups said the EPA agreed to mediation after substantial pressure from
lawmakers, particularly Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who support Martin and his work as EPA ombudsman over the past 10 years.
“I’m a little concerned that this postponement indicates they’re not going to follow through” with the mediation process, said Doug
Hartnett, an attorney with the Government Accountability Project.
Martin resigned after EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman moved the ombudsman office into the EPA inspector general’s
office. Martin resigned rather than work there, saying he would lose his independence and control over his budget.
The ombudsman’s job had been to mediate conflicts between the agency and the people who live near Superfund sites. It included
responding to citizen complaints, evaluating agency cleanup plans and recommending changes.
Tim Hannapel, a spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, wouldn’t discuss details of the pending case.
But he noted that mediation generally offers advantages to both parties.
Disputes usually are resolved quickly, often in one day, without the expense and time required for a full-blown investigation, he said.
“It’s meant to forestall and prevent a lengthy investigation,” said Hannapel.
Of the more than 1,500 complaints received each year, the Office of Special Counsel accepts fewer than 400 a year for