The environment. (File/Associated Press)
The environment. (Associated Press)

I thought that it could not get worse than that farting federal employee.

But here is an actual news story.

There is a rogue “poop bandit” on the loose at the Environmental Protection Agency. I will try to make as few puns about this as humanly possible.

GovernmentExecutive.com obtained an e-mail from Denver EPA administrator Howard Cantor asking employees to please not leave feces in the hallway.

Here’s the critical excerpt from the article:

In the email, obtained by Government Executive, Deputy Regional Administrator Howard Cantor mentioned “several incidents” in the building, including clogging the toilets with paper towels and “an individual placing feces in the hallway” outside the restroom.

Who started this? Did it start with the towels, then escalate to the hallway? This seems like one of those classic Office Passive Aggressive Note escalations.

I bet it started with a sign. “Please remember: only flush toilet paper down the toilet! Thanks everyone for keeping the environment protected, ha ha!”

But it didn’t stop. “Hey everyone, again, remember: only toilet paper in the toilet! I’ve come up with a simple rhyme: We’re all friends! Let’s not spoil it! Keep your towels out of the toilet! Thanks, all.”

Then: “Seriously, guys! What are we, bears? No, wait. A bear would not put PAPER TOWELS in the toilet! Stop.”

The next sign was probably scrawled over the toilet in red crayon. “STOP IT SERIOUSLY WE ALL KNOW YOU CAN READ! YOU ARE EMPLOYED BY A FEDERAL AGENCY! STOP PUTTING PAPER TOWELS IN THE TOILET! YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT I’M CAPABLE OF!”

Then finally just a single message, in the hallway, left with a No. 2 pencil. “YOU DID THIS. I DIDN’T WANT TO. BUT YOU MADE ME DO THIS.”

But it didn’t stop there. The article continues:

Confounded by what to make of this occurrence, EPA management “consulted” with workplace violence “national expert” John Nicoletti, who said that hallway feces is in fact a health and safety risk. He added the behavior was “very dangerous” and the individuals responsible would “probably escalate” their actions.

“Management is taking this situation very seriously and will take whatever actions are necessary to identify and prosecute these individuals,” Cantor wrote. He asked for any employees with knowledge of the poop bandit or bandits to notify their supervisor.

They consulted with an expert? (“That’s where the REAL GOVERNMENT WASTE IS!” to quote dozens of radio hosts somewhere right now.) I’m sure John was delighted to be called in. “Hey, John, we need your specific expertise.” (A significant pause.) “Someone has pooped in the hallway. Yours was the first name that sprang to mind.” Even if it made sense in context, I’m sure the news that you are the first expert people call when someone has pooped in the hallway should make you rethink your life.

They should have called in a John before, not after.

John said it “would probably escalate.” Escalate? Honestly, if you’re already at the point where you’re leaving poop in the hallway, where can you go? There’s not much territory beyond that. Pretty much everything else would be a downgrade in hostilities. Even leaving dead mice at someone’s desk could be regarded as an evolution in a promising direction. I suppose you could pick it up and pelt people with it, but then you’d have to identify yourself as the poop bandit.

I telephoned to ask if they’d found the poop bandit — “Hello, I’m a writer for the Washington Post and I was wondering whether you’d found the poop bandit” was either the high or low point of my journalistic career, depending on how you look at it — but, alas, they were not forthcoming, no matter how I strained.

Spokeswoman Alisha Johnson, who returned my call, laughed politely when asked if this was “your No. 1 priority, not your No. 2 priority,” but wouldn’t comment on the status of the bandit, saying it was an “ongoing personnel matter.” She added, “Our actions in response to that issue have been focused on ensuring a safe environment for EPA employees.”

“I get it, it’s catchy, it’s absurd,” she said.

Then again, at least it’s organic waste! I’m sure the EPA knows exactly what to do about it.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.