House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) yesterday moved to coordinate five House probes into the management of the Environmental Protection Agency, warning, "America is actually frightened. The American people are extremely concerned about the environment of this nation."
As concerns about charges of political favoritism, conflicts of interest and mismanagement continued to grow, House Republicans also began to seek signatures for a letter asking President Reagan to take immediate action, warning, "The Democrats are dangerously close to making the environment a partisan issue."
Meanwhile, EPA sources said that a lawyer reviewing EPA documents subpoenaed by the House wrote a memo to his superiors last week saying that, while he found no evidence of "criminal or illegal conduct," he had "suspicions" about the awarding of certain contracts and the escalation in cost of some contracts. The employe, Michael J. Murphy, was subsequently dismissed from the agency.
Rusty Brashear, an EPA spokesman, said that the EPA yesterday turned the entire matter over to the FBI, including the "suspicions" memo and the documents Murphy had been examining.
Murphy refused requests by his superiors at the EPA to outline specifically what his suspicions were, Brashear said.
Murphy was not technically fired because he was working under a temporary contract that expired last week, Brashear said.
But he acknowledged that the contract had been extended once before.
Murphy worked in the office of Rita M. Lavelle, the assistant EPA administrator fired earlier this month by Reagan.
The documents Murphy was reviewing relating to the $1.6 billion Superfund program became the focus of a confrontation between Congress and the administration over executive privilege.
EPA Administrator Anne M. Burford refused--under orders from Reagan--to turn the documents over to congressional investigating committees. She was cited for contempt of Congress in December, but a subsequent compromise is expected to lead the House to drop the charge.
On Capitol Hill, O'Neill called in the chairmen of all five House subcommittees investigating the EPA to discuss the coordination of the inquiries.
"I hope, for the good of the nation, that it's the situation at the EPA not as serious as some people seem to think. Apparently they've been cutting down the good work that's been accomplished. If we let this continue, the whole program will go to seed . . . . This administration is so in favor of big business it's frightening."
O'Neill said he supports the agreement worked out last week between the White House and a House Public Works subcommittee to provide to Congress the EPA enforcement documents the administration had previously withheld.
"We're going to get them the documents , that's the main thing," O'Neill said, adding that he did not consider the agreement binding on other committees investigating the EPA.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes confirmed yesterday that discussions are going on with the other committees and that the compromise "certainly provides a good example of a way we can resolve our differences and protect the integrity of the executive privilege process to the satisfaction of both branches of government."
As the negotiations on the investigations continued, House Republicans were circulating a "Dear Colleague" letter asking Reagan to move to appoint someone "who will inspire public trust" to run the Superfund program.
"It is not in the best interests of the Republican Party for the credibility of the EPA's commitment to environmental protection to remain in doubt," said the letter signed by Reps. James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Claudine Schneider of Rhode Island, both moderate Republicans with strong environmental records.
In other action:
The House Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee met privately to question subpoenaed past and present EPA employes about the charges.
Democratic leaders introduced legislation in both the House and Senate yesterday to remove the EPA from direct presidential control by creating a five-member bipartisan commission to operate the agency.
Rep. James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.), chairman of one of the subcommittees investigating the EPA, called for an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee of the failure of the Justice Department to pursue the contempt citation of Burford last December by the House.