LETTER OF JON GRAND TO OCCUPY EPA PROTESTERS 11.11.11
I want to, first, apologize for not being here in person to talk to you. My 91 year old father is ill and I am spending as much time with him as I can. So I thank you for your understanding.
Witness in Discrimination Case
It has been almost six years since I was sent to prison. Up to that point, I had never had any run-ins with the law and was pursuing a career that I hoped was making a difference in peoples’ lives. All that changed when members of EPA’s Office of International Activities (OIA) used racial slurs and epithets in my presence. As a senior manager, I was required to report any acts of discrimination or bigotry. The result was that I was called to testify at Marsha’s (Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo) trial. But I didn’t realize how swiftly and angrily the Agency would react and retaliate. My first clue came on a visit I made to EPA Headquarters shortly after the verdict was returned in Marsha’s favor. As I walked down the hall of the OIA, doors were physically closed as I approached each office. The Amish call it “shunning” and is reserved for those who have been placed outside the community.
Shunning vs Promotions
Oddly, those individuals who harassed and bullied a young women who sought only to make EPA’s mission…To Protect Human Health and the Environment…a reality for South African miners, were transferred to other senior positions with no loss of pay or rank. In fact, they were promoted. It is a sad commentary on the Federal Senior Executive Service. But as the Deputy Regional Administrator told me, “the SES is a club and its members protect each other.”
Program Terminated and the Big Lie
The next thing to happen was the sudden and immediate termination of the program I managed. The Office of International Activities refused to process the final request for remaining project funds…funds necessary to close out the programs in an orderly fashion. Knowing that the actions were obviously retaliatory, OIA managers concocted a lie to cover up their illegal acts. I was told that OIA had developed a series of “white papers” which supposedly evaluated all the resources the Agency was then committing to International work. I asked to see the “white paper” for my program but was repeatedly denied access to it. Finally, at the request of the Regional Administrator in Chicago, OIA sent two senior managers out to explain that the sudden termination of my program was based on an in-depth review of the Agency’s international commitments. And no…neither I nor the Regional Administrator would be allowed to see the “white paper”. OIA was committed to “the big lie.”
Freedom of Information Act
Later I asked for a copy of the “white paper” under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The Agency responded that there was no white paper…but there was a memo in the file which I could not see since it was employee sensitive and I was no longer with the Agency. This is the kind of catch-22 that the public has grown to despise: I couldn’t see the information when I was with the Agency or when I was no longer with the Agency.
But the Agency response confirmed that OIA had been lying about the “white paper” in a clear attempt to cover-up their retaliation.
After receiving the FOIA response, I wrote directly to Administrator Jackson asking her to help me get the memo. After a number of follow-up requests, I received a message of the International office informing me that there was no white paper and no memo. Since the official Agency response cited the existence of a memo in the file, EPA was once again lying and trying to cover up the acts of retaliation. Finally, the day Marsha’s book was published I got another message from the International office saying that the memo I requested was attached. It was undated, marked draft, and had never been sent.
US Embassy in Copenhagen Assignment
What happened next was even more devastating. Some years earlier, I had been asked to join the US Embassy in Copenhagen to implement a new State Department initiative. The Embassy in Copenhagen was to be the center of one of the first regional environmental hubs, serving the Nordic-Baltic region. Processing the necessary paperwork to get me assigned to the Embassy was in the hands of OIA and was repeatedly blocked and delayed by same managers who harassed and tormented Marsha.
EPA Mistake to Continue Overseas Housing Supplements
When the assignment ended, OIA was responsible for terminating all activities related to the position…including the payment of the overseas housing supplement. However, the payments were not stopped and continued to be regularly added to my account deposited electronically with paychecks. This continued for 5 years. Each year, the senior budget managers at the Chicago office certified that they had reviewed the budget submissions and that the requested funds were correct and legitimate. At the end of each fiscal year, these same officers certified that the expenditures of the past year were also correct and legitimate. But they lied. Because the housing allowance was a discreet line item in the Region’s budget , even the most cursory review would have highlighted the proposed payments. So the allowances continued.
EPA Flawed Accounting System and 5 Years of Overpayments
After five years, the Agency recognized that its time management accounting system was seriously flawed and instituted a new system. One of the concerns on the part of staff was that the previously sloppy management of the budget process had resulted in overpayments to employees. So serious was the concern that the senior management of EPA in the Chicago office promised that, should any overpayments or other irregularities be discovered as the new system was implemented, no disciplinary actions would be taken.
Repayments to Agency
When the overpayments to me surfaced, I immediately contacted the comptrollers office and set a plan to repay the Agency. The Agency immediately began withholding money from each paycheck in accordance with the agreement. And that, I thought,, was the end of the matter.
Complaint to EPA OIG --Criminal Charges
But it was not to be. The senior budget manager called me in to his office to inform me that “someone” had called the Inspector general asking for a criminal investigation. Years later I learned that the IG was in fact called by the budget manager himself. Again it was a case of trying to cover-up his own culpability by making criminal charges.
Advised to Plead Guilty to Receiving Money Based on Agency Error
In the end, I plead guilty to receiving money to which I was not entitled. But the Department of Justice prosecutor made a point of noting in her brief that there was no allegation that I had caused the monies to given to me. That, she stated, was the Agency’s error. I was afraid that if I did not agree to receiving the money, even though it was because of EPA's errors, and that I was ultimately not entitled to it, I would be taken to court and if found guilty, I would service time in prison.
Prison and Involvement of EPA IG's Office
My fears came to fruition anyway. I was sentenced to 4 months in prison followed by 6 months home confinement and 2 years probation. The budget officers who had falsely attested to the accuracy of the budgets and the expenditures were never disciplined. I asked the EPA IG to investigate the budget fraud and was repeatedly told there would be no investigation. Finally, an exasperated member of the IG’s staff said there would be no investigation because they had done an investigation and concluded that no investigation necessary. Despite the incredible double-speak, I asked for a copy of the "non-investigation" under FOIA. What I got were pages of redacted material that told me nothing. The conclusion, however, was startling. The IG concluded that since I had plead guilty, the matter was closed.
EPA OIG Coverup and Lying to Congress
As many of you know, the OIG has come under Congressional scrutiny for failing to carry out impartial investigations into Agency fraud waste and abuse. But it takes no leap of logic to understand that if by receiving the overpayments, I had committed a crime, then knowingly lying that the budgets and expenditures were proper and legitimate was also a crime…a crime that ultimately includes lying to Congress. That the IG covered this up makes them culpable as well. Yet nothing has been done.
EPA Sending a Message to Witnesses
The disaffection of the American people with both the Congress and the Executive branches has at its heart the refusal to demand and enforce accountability. The budget officers who lied have, like the officials in Marsha’s case, been given promotions rather than jail time, while because of EPA's corruption and errors, I went to jail. My life will never be the same because I was destroyed by these people for agreeing to be a witness in a discrimination case and represent the ultimate of reprisal and retaliation under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I caution others who are naive and believe that after years of working with colleagues, you will be told the truth or advised of the right thing to do. I was told that by pleading guilty, I would be allowed to continue to repay the funds and receive at most a slap on the wrist. Instead, under the cover of those involved, I and my family received the ultimate penality for my own naivete for which I will pay for the rest of my life. I just did not understand the jealousy of my peers when I received the Copenhagen assignment; I did not understand that the OIG was part of the system; I did not understand that they were going after me for testifying in Marsha's case; and I just did not understand how corrupt EPA had become.
The Obama administration promised something different. But the promise remains unfulfilled. That is why people are once again taking to the streets. It is time for the Congress and the Administration to wake up to the corruption, abuse of power and privilege that continues to erode the respect and trust of Americans in their government.
Abraham Lincoln warned: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time…but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”