Workers turned EPA warehouse in Landover into personal rec rooms, audit finds

June 5, 2013

In a huge Environmental Protection Agency warehouse in Landover, enterprising workers made sure that they had all the comforts of home. They created personal rec rooms with televisions, radios, chairs and couches. On the walls were photos, calendars and pinups. For entertainment, they had books, magazines and videos. If they got hungry, they could grab something from a refrigerator and pop it into a microwave.

The crown jewel of their hideaway — which stored EPA office furnishings — was a 30-by-45-foot athletic center, cobbled together from “surplus” EPA gym equipment and decked out with a music system provided via “other agency inventory items,” according to a recently released inspector general’s report.

All of it was carefully hidden from security cameras by partitions and piles of boxes set up by the workers, employees of Apex Logistics, the contractor that ran the warehouse until the EPA severed ties after learning of the situation last month.

Also scattered around the 70,000-square-foot warehouse were boxes of documents with personal information, including passports. Why expired passports were at an EPA facility is anyone’s guess.

“Our initial research at the EPA’s Landover warehouse raised significant concerns with the lack of agency oversight of personal property and warehouse space at the facility,” EPA Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. noted in his “early warning report.”

It has not been a great week for trust in government. A separate inspector general’s report Tuesday savaged the Internal Revenue Service for spending $4.1 million on a 2010 conference. Two managers who attended that conference were placed on administrative leave Wednesday for accepting free food and other gifts, a violation of government ethics standards, officials said.

The report said the IRS had hired three event planners for $133,000 without signing contracts with any of them and had paid one speaker $27,000, plus $2,500 for a first-class plane ticket, to deliver two one-hour speeches on how seemingly random ideas can drive innovation.

The transgressions at the EPA warehouse added to the sense that federal overseers are not always minding the store. EPA managers, who hired Apex Logistics in 2007 for $750,000 annually, “confirmed that they had not visited the warehouse before the inspector general’s office briefed the agency,” Elkins wrote.

Nor were the findings limited to relatively harmless examples of men cadging creature comforts from surplus EPA equipment stored at the warehouse. Investigators also found “personally identifiable information and agency sensitive files,” including a box of U.S. passports, shown in a photograph in the report.

“Dirt, dust and vermin feces were pervasive,” refrigerators contained mold, and old computer bags were “molding and rotting,” according to the report. Shelves were unsecured, with poorly balanced items hanging over the edges, the report says, and personal spaces were powered by “multiple electrical cords that may cause overloads, resulting in potential fire hazards.” Propane was stored in the warehouse, and trucks were parked inside it.

The auditors also found “new appliances received in 2007 still in the original packaging that had never been opened” and “new, unused furniture received in 2008.”

Elkins also observed that “there was a locked office inside the facility for which we could not determine a purpose.”

The report, described by the Associated Press earlier this week, contains a five-page letter from the EPA’s acting administrator, Bob Perciasepe, that details the agency’s day-by-day response after he was informed of the situation May 15. In addition to issuing an immediate “stop-work” order to Apex, EPA managers re-keyed the door locks, inventoried almost everything, set aside surplus furniture for use by the General Services Administration, reworked procedures — in consultation with the State Department — for handling expiredand unneeded passports and began an investigation of personally identifiable information.

Perciasepe said he ordered an evaluation of “conditions at all warehouses and storage facilities used by the EPA” and immediate action to correct any problems found. The evaluation includes “a thorough walk-through”of the facilities and quick report to headquarters.

The EPA “has taken immediate, aggressive actions to address the situation even before receiving recommendations for action in your forthcoming early warning letter,” Perciasepe wrote to Elkins.

The EPA “takes the recent situation detailed in the Office of the Inspector General’s early warning report very seriously,” EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said in an e-mail. “As described in that report, as soon as we were alerted to the situation, we worked with the Office of the Inspector General to respond swiftly and appropriately.”

Telephone calls to the home and office of Apex officials Wednesday were not returned.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

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