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Context of 'Afternoon November 27, 2001: EPA Ombudsman Criticizes Planned Reorganization of His Office'

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The EPA publishes a “Draft Guidance for the National Hazardous Waste Ombudsman and the Regional Superfund Ombudsmen Program,” which attempts to “clarify” the National Ombudsman’s function. (Environmental Protection Agency 1/3/2001; US Congress 6/25/2002) The current ombudsman, Robert Martin, argues that the guidelines are actually designed to limit the scope of the ombudsman’s authority, by placing the office under the authority of the head of Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response (OSWER), an EPA division the ombudsman may investigate. (Walsh 11/29/2001)

The General Accounting Office (GAO) issues a report on the National Ombudsman’s office at the request of the Chairman of the House Sub-Committee on Environment and Hazardous Materials. (US Congress 6/25/2002; US Congress 7/16/2002) The report criticizes the EPA’s January guidance (see January 3, 2001) and concludes that the EPA’s national and regional ombudsmen do not have sufficient autonomy. (Walsh 11/29/2001) The GAO report recommends the following:
bullet Strengthen the ombudsman’s independence by moving the office outside of the solid waste program;
bullet Provide the ombudsman with a separate budget and staff;
bullet Increase the ombudsman’s accountability by requiring the office to develop specific criteria for its investigations. (General Accounting Office 7/27/2001 pdf file)

National Ombudsman Robert Martin sends a memorandum to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman suggesting that the agency implement the recommendations in the General Accounting Office’s July 2001 report (see July 27, 2001). He advises against a proposal under consideration that would move his office to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). He argues that doing so would not increase the ombudsman’s independence and notes that the ombudsman’s mission is very different than the OIG’s. (Environmental Protection Agency 11/26/2001 pdf file; US Congress 6/25/2002)

Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman Robert Martin writes to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman criticizing her decision (see September 28, 2001) to transfer his office to the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Martin challenges her assertion that this would result in greater autonomy, noting that the IOG had previously “interfered with [a]… National Ombudsman investigation” of the Marjol Batter Site. (Environmental Protection Agency 11/26/2001 pdf file)

Nine US Congressional representatives write to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman asking that she refrain from transferring the National Ombudsman office. Eighteen Congressional representatives have already submitted the same request to Whitman (see Afternoon November 27, 2001). (US Congress 6/25/2002)

EPA National Ombudsman Robert Martin and the Government Accountability Project (GAP) file a lawsuit challenging EPA Administrator Christie Whitman’s plan to relocate the ombudsman’s office to the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) (see Morning November 27, 2001). (Associated Press 1/10/2002)

US District Judge Richard W. Roberts vacates a temporary restraining order (see January 11, 2002) against the EPA, which had prevented the agency from transferring the function of the EPA’s national ombudsman to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) (see Morning November 27, 2001). The case is referred to the United States Office of Special Counsel. Within hours, EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman and the EPA Office of Inspector General move to implement the planned changes (see Morning November 27, 2001) to the EPA National Ombudsman office. (US Congress 6/25/2002)

On Earth Day, Robert Martin resigns from his position as the EPA national ombudsman in protest of the EPA’s decision to curb his autonomy by placing his office under the jurisdiction of the EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG). Martin believes EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman’s decision to relocate jurisdiction of the office was caused by Martin’s criticisms (and those of his chief investigator, Hugh Kaufman) of her potential conflicts of interest in respect to a Denver Superfund Site, the Marjol Battery site in Throop, PA, and his criticism of the EPA’s response to environmental consequences following the World Trade Center attack in Lower Manhattan. In his letter of resignation, Martin accuses the EPA of concealing data regarding WTC toxic substances from residents, workers, and students in Lower Manhattan. (McClure and Shukovsky 4/23/2002; US Congress 6/25/2002)


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