EPA watchdog says Trump appointees kept fired employees on payroll

Federal prosecutors declined the OIGs charges and Jackson and Munoz, who were vice presidents for government at the National Mining Association, left the agency in February 2020.Jackson and Munoz didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.The OIG's new report is heavily redacted to conceal the identities of two EPA employees who were paid while they were leaving the agency. It specifically blames Jackson and Munoz on improper actions that resulted in significant agency losses.The report contains details that show one of the anonymous employees was fired by EPA in 2017. Munoz said Jackson instructed him to make sure the person was still receiving their salary after they were fired.The report stated that Mr. Munoz explained to the EPA's Human Resources Management Division the 'fix' that he believed was Mr. Jackson. He told them that the person was on an extended telework schedule in order that they would be paid. "Mr. Munoz stated that he believed Mr. Jackson wouldn't be happy if he didn't follow Mr. Jackson’s instructions to [the person] get additional pay after [their] termination."Federal law doesn't allow for severance payments. Jackson and Munoz admitted to investigators that they knew this in voluntary interviews.Jackson stated that he did not think that Jackson was fair to the person who was being abused in a July 2019 interview.According to the report, a second employee was fired in 2018. The person refused to resign and was taken out of the building by an armed guard. Jackson's explanation of why the person was forced to leave is redacted in this report. However, Jackson stated to investigators that he continued to pay them salaried wages to avoid a break in service' so they could look for other federal jobs.The first person received $14,181.38 and the second received $23,731.85.Jackson was a long-standing Republican Hill staffer prior to joining EPA. He managed to stay out of the ethics scandals that led former Administrator Scott Pruitts resignation. The new report, which was completed in March, sheds more light on Jackson's bitter relationship to the EPAs internal watchdog.In late 2019, their animosity became public after Jackson's OIG publicly accused Jackson of blocking an investigation into whether he had pressured an outside scientist to alter her testimony before Congress.According to the report, the OIG was already investigating Jackson about pay issues at the time of the separate investigation. Jackson was supported by other Trump political appointees. Matt Leopold, the then general counsel, issued a memo saying that Jackson's request for testimony from the OIG did not fulfill its watchdog function. This memo was retracted by the Biden administration in April.Jackson was not only in public dispute with the EPA OIG but the Interior Department's Inspector General revealed last year that he had also directed the hiring of a son-in law to be an Interior official for a job at EPA. POLITICO reported that the son-in law was fired for unspecified misconduct just five months later.Munoz was also criticized by the OIG for receiving an inexcusable raise and for allegedly engaging in time-and attendance misconduct.Jackson created a new position in May 2018 for Munoz, the senior adviser to EPA's Pacific Southwest region regional administrator. It is based in San Francisco. Munoz was assigned to Las Vegas as his home and was also the Nevada state director for Trump's campaign. The city is home to the EPA's finance center.The federal regulations forbid a new job like Munoz to be associated with a salary increase. However, Jackson granted Munoz a four step raise in that instance, according to the OIG. It cost $40,575.11 to the federal government from Nov. 7, 2020 through Jan. 20, 2019. After that, Munoz was made a "Senior-Level pay scale" and he resigned on January 20, according to the OIG report.The OIG examined Munoz's reporting to his official duty station. It determined that Munoz had "false information about his work during 14 of the 15 pay periods from May 2018 through December 2018.Review of phone logs, emails and other records showed that he was often not at EPA's Las Vegas offices. The OIG discovered that Munoz had attended DMV appointments and received furniture delivery to his residence during work hours.The report stated that Mr. Munoz had admitted to us that he knew how to tell" an unnamed agency employee "he was working at the Las Vegas Finance Center to make sure she wouldn't ask any further questions about his whereabouts during the pay period." EPA employees working at the Las Vegas Finance Center gave statements that Mr. Munoz was not in the office on most days. [Redacted sources] stated that Mr. Munoz left the office at lunchtime or around noon and never returned. Munoz stated to investigators that he considered himself to be working, as he could be reached by phone even when he wasn't in the office.According to the report, the total loss to EPA due to Munoz's alleged misconduct amount to $55,150.44. This was based on the only study of his activities during the May-December 2018 period.Both men leaving the agency, and federal prosecutors declining the press charges against them, the OIG report was given to Michael S. Regan, EPA Administrator, for any appropriate action.Tim Carroll, spokesperson for the agency, stated that the EPA would review the report.