It’s time for a time-out at the EPA

As Steve notes below, less than 7 percent of the EPA’s workforce is considered “essential,” in the sense of being permitted to work during the government shutdown. The message? The productive sector of our society needs to be harassed, but not on a daily basis.

However, if John Brenner were still working for the EPA, he would probably be deemed part of the essential 6.6 percent. So would his close friend John Beale.

Brenner was the director of policy analysis and review in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. Beale was his high-ranking subordinate. He was also widely believed to be working for the CIA.

In fact, Beale used his alleged CIA status to steal nearly $900,000 from the EPA. He has pleaded guilty to collecting pay, bonuses, and travel reimbursement under the guise of performing CIA duties while he vacationed, visited relatives, or simply stayed home.

On one occasion, Beale charged the EPA (or, more accurately, taxpayers) $14,000 for his first-class airfare to London — instead of $1,000 for a coach ticket — and more than $1,000 per night for four nights at a hotel.

Beale claimed that he needed this special treatment due to back problems. According to the EPA’s Inspector General’s office, the agency never even looked at Beale’s vouchers due to his status as an EPA hot-shot and CIA operative. Clearly, the EPA travel office is “non-essential.”

How did the EPA fall for Beale’s CIA line? According to Brenner, backed up by the Patrick Sullivan Deputy Inspector General:

The answer is that if it had been anyone else, it almost certainly would not have been credible. But John had established a track record that made him one of the most highly regarded members of EPA.

That’s how it works in Washington (and possibly elsewhere). Success, even on a very small scale, creates myth and becomes cause for temporary worship.

It also helps if your boss/friend is corrupt. Testifying before Darrel Issa’s committee regarding the Beale matter (Beale took “The Fifth” even though he’s already pleaded guilty), Brenner admitted that he accepted an $8,000 discount on a Mercedes Benz from a lawyer who was lobbying the EPA on behalf of Mercedes regarding fuel-economy standards.

Brenner was instrumental to Beale’s financial success at the EPA. He recruited Beale, his friend since graduate school and co-owner a vacation home. In 1991, he recommended Beale for a retention bonus — worth 25 percent of his annual salary — even though Beale apparently had no written job offers.

Brenner recommended Beale for another retention bonus in 2000 (again Beale had no written job offers). Three years earlier, Beale had bought Brenner’s share of their vacation home. You scratch my back…

In all, Beale somehow collected 22 retention bonuses. When he retired, Beale was making more than $200,000 per year, which was above the legal limit for federal salaries.

And Beale will continue to receive big bucks from taxpayers. Despite his guilty plea, Beale is due to receive his retirement payouts. Given his time in government and his level of compensation, that payout will be substantial, though probably not as large as Lois Lerner’s.