tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN May 19, 2016 11:30am-1:31pm EDT
devastating. end quote. i'm wondering, if you could elaborate on what that devoting so many resources to tcpa compliance means for patient care. >> thank you, i think that's the most important question i could be asked today. it does impact upon patient care, which is the most important aspect of providing healthcare. as any other enterprise a hospital has to make economic decisions when they are dealing with a finite pot of resources. if resources have to be dealt to dealing with the tcpa. if that impacts the number of nurses that are there to treat patients, it reduces the direct interaction between the nurses and the patient. the delivery of direct follow up instructions. other instructions with regard to the patient care. there have been studies done by the department of health and human services, the agency for
research and quality has found the reduction in nursing staffing has a direct relationship to negative patient outcomes with regard to the treatment of their conditions. so the more resources that have to be dedicated to the non-use of up to date technology, calls from that pool of talent that is not being directed to patient care. and i don't think that's something we want to do as a nation. >> my time has expired. ia i'll hand it over to mr. nelson. >> i'm going to defer my questions until later. i want to introduce a thought. the law says it's illegal robo calls callsen cell phones. yet consumers receive millions of those robo calls on cell phones. can you imagine if we made it legal what would happen? i'm going to defer and let our members ask their questions
first. >> senator blount. i'm sorry, that's right. we'll keep it even. blumenthal not here. senator mccaskill. >> so this is not that complicated. all you have to have is the permission of the person you're calling and call them. i mean you guys make this sound like this is an impossible thing to do. you have somebody who leaves your hospital and you guys can't manage to get their permission to follow up with them by phone and call them? why is that so economically difficult for you? >> thank youer senat. the problem is, the plaintiff's bar has taken the opportunity to twist the language with regard to the use of consent. and has chosen to sue most of the members of my association with regard to the inexactitude of the language involved in the
consent process. consent is obtained through the conditions of admission. when someone is admitted to the hospital. that's a written document that's signed by the mapatient. the language is torn -- >> why don't you just do a simple when someone checks out of a hospital, why don't you present them a simple card and say do you mind if we call you on follow up and have them sign that. i don't think lawyers would have much luck. if you are settling those cases shame on you. take them to try and kick them in the rear in the courtroom. that's what you do. you don't like, come -- you guys need to understand this, this is the biggest consumer problem in the country. no bigger problem. and some of these witnesses you all are in here whining about these poor business and consumers really want these. they don't want them. they don't want them. they do not want -- when somebody has a reassigned number you need to call them 40 times to figure out. that was your time.
what about mail can you drop them a note in the mail and figure out they have a different phone number? >> senator, the problem is that not all the numbers are reassigned. there are numbers that are wrongly provided from the start. if it was just that one number, it would be the issue. the issue is that as long as there's one number then a class action is brought. you have a class action, there was no statute of limitations put into the tcpa when it was drafted. all phone calls made by that company for four years are put at issue. that's what makes it not simple. >> let me ask you, mr. zeller, have the complaints gone down or up on robo calls in the last several years? >> they've gone up every year in our office. we're on track to set all new records, yet this year. >> so you would think that if in fact, these lawsuits were really damaging the cost of doing business in this country, you would see the opposite impact, wouldn't you?
attorney general? >> well, you know, i think the massive amounts of phone calls are not from people being represented here. so the problem we have are the bulk calls that come from overseas where none of us have the ability other than i guess i'll throw the fcc under the bus, that they're the only ones who can regulate those huge massive calls that originate outside our jurisdiction. without enforcement ability those are the ones that really are let's say well over half of the complaints we get. >> i know you work with my attorney general closely. in the few months the lawsuits he's brought against an insurance company, lawn care service home security company and a charity for violating missouri law. this is a real problem. by the way, i would just suggest
this, i know that the carriers are all members of the chamber. we know from hearings we've had in this committee that the technology is available. the carriers could adopt. and it's been clarified by the fcc there is no duty to connect calls. that prohibits them from adopting this technology. they can adopt the technology and make it available to the consumers that allows the consumers to opt out. without having to take these calls. and what we're really trying to do here, we're not trying to punish people with litigation. we're trying to put power in the hands of the consumer. and this may not be the most artful way to do it. but i will just speak for me. and i think probably for a whole lot of people who run for office that hang out around here, if you think i'm backing up on going after people who make robo calls, in light of what i encounter every day from people i meet, including my own family?
i mean, my son can't get two companies to quit calling him on his cell phone. he handed the phone to me. you know, i said, i'm u.s. senator i'm going to sue you. guess what? they called him 15 minutes later. >> i think that those are really the bad actors that need to be targeted that have been getting targeted and continue would have liability under whatever modification you're doing to the tcpa. i'm not saying when somebody receives notice this is a wrong number and they receive it in a reasonable way where they know. the calls should stop. if they haven't -- >> but they don't. ask ms. saunders. they don't stop. >> she has some examples of ones that didn't. i have policies and procedures in place with most of my clients. where it works for 99% of the time. you have human error, you have something that doesn't happen. you might have a vendor that
hasn't been following the company's procedures and policies and didn't record the do not call. companies don't want to call people that aren't their clients. we're trying to convey customers there is no desire to continue to call someone who is not a customer with the information. >> it doesn't feel like that on the receiving end. that's not the perception consumers have. thank you, mr. chairman. >> we'll go to the other half of the missouri duo here. senator blount. >> thank you, chairman. what i think attorney general said was that half of the robo calls come from out of the country. what could we do about that? >> senator that's a great question. again, between, you know, addressing this with the fcc, which has the regulatory authority. and the carriers which i'll agree with the senator, your colleague, that they do have some ability.
they pointed to one another for years. so up until recently, i've always been critical of the fcc and their failure to regulate. the carriers have always said we're nervous about whether we have the ability to use the technology. now, that they passed the rule, which we've long asked for, the ball is back to the carriers to say why aren't you using the technology that's currently available to block some of these -- we're not talking about any of the types of calls that you're hearing about. these are the massive calls that literally call everybody in a area code. when i get the complaint, i literally tell people don't feel too special because they called 9,999 other people that same minute. so it's only the fcc and the carriers, somewhere in that finger pointing is the answer to your question. >> well, it seems to me that one of the things you said is exactly the gist of what we're
talking about. we're talking about two different problems. we're talking about massive robo calls. half of them, based on your information from outside the country, and then the other thing is people legitimately trying to contact someone whose number they either no longer have or never had given to them in the correct way. surely there's some way we can separate the discussion to where we deal with these problems in the way they ought to be dealt with. you know, i've heard that some banks, for instance, no longer even try to notify on what they would see as a routine problem i'd like to be notified of o. some activity in my account that doesn't seem to make sense, but -- is that where they don't notify me because they think they might be calling a number that they're not sure of? is that a real problem? >> yes, and the american bankers association actually submitted a
filing on exactly that issue. i mean, it is a problem. you know, i wish it was as easy as just simply getting consnlen. once you have consent you have to be able to rely on the consent. the problem with tpca liability the way it's been interpreted is you can not rely on that consent there is no way of knowing if a number has been reassigned. that's where there are increasing numbers of bank and other institutions that are afraid to make routine calls or send routine messages. >> does anybody on the panel know, how long does it take to reassign a number? if i give up my cell phone number, is there a definite period that that can't be available to anybody else? how long does it take it before somebody else is answering the number i used to have that i gave the hospital or i gave the bank or i gave the college? how long might it be before somebody else has that number?
>> senator, it depends on the provider of the cell phone number. i think it could be as short at 30 days. some providers wait six months before reassignment. it's kind of a hodgepodge. and part of the problem also is the business doesn't know who the cell phone provider is on any given number. you wouldn't know the time frame in which it's switching out. >> if it was six months -- say we had a rule you couldn't do it any quicker than six months, anybody that got my cell phone number earlier than six months wouldn't have any certainty it was still my number, is that right? until they called it? does that sound right to you? >> yes, sir. but i think the cell phone companies may not agree to wait six months. because some cell phone companies have a smaller batch of numbers they're going to want to recirculate. but if i might, i think that several of us agree on this panel that one way of dealing
with the calls to reassign numbers is for there to be a mandatory data base that all cell phone companies participate in that would allow callers to access and ask when was the last time this particular phone number was transferred. once that answer is provided, the caller would know whether or not they had valid consent. and the problem with the situation now is apparently there are no full data bases that are -- include all the cell phone companies. so i think several of us on different sides of this issue have all been encouraging both the cell phone companies and the fcc to either voluntarily do this or mandate it. that would solve a lot of the litigation about the wrong number calls. >> it just seems to me mr. chairman that we've got two very different problems here. one it's really easy to be
outraged about. and the missouri delegation, senator mccaskill usually deals with the outrage better than i do. al i appreciate that. and i like to see that happen. >> it's called good cop bad cop. >> maybe so. the other one is a problem that we're all sympathetic to, if we could figure out how to divide this discussion into those two categories, we're much more likely to find a solution to both problems than not. i hope we can figure out how to do that. >> thank you, senator blount. that suggestion, is one we may want to explore and take a look at if everybody sort of agreed that would make sense. i know definitely in the missouri delegation of having to call somebody i'm going to call the good cop. somebody doesn't like unsolicited phone calls. i have next senator cobeshar.
>> thank you mr. chairman. so i'm a co-sponsor of the hangup act to repeal a provision from the bipartisan budget act of 2015 allowing robo calls to cell phones for the collection of debt owed to the government. ms. saunders, in your testimony, you estimate this provision would impact 61 million people. you also point out in many cases debt collectors do not have accurate information about who owes a debt. you testified that 90% of the debt collection complaints your office received year was because the caller was harassing the wrong person. in both of your opinions how significantly does it undermine robo calling protections? we just did the senior tour around minnesota, our staff and my own experiences meeting with people, robo calls are still one of the number one things they
list as something that is they're angry about. you know all about it. ms. saunders? >> we think the provision is very dangerous. one of the concerns -- one of the many concerns i have heard is that the ftc and other government agencies tell people not to answer any robo calls. the ftc has said publicly repeatedly the irs won't call you. but now because the irs can hire debt collectors and because the irs debt collectors can robo call without consent, that advice from the ftc is no longer available. yet, how do people who are receiving the scam calls know the difference? and so i can go on. but the problem is tremendous. and it is not a good resolution to allow consumers who owe money
to be called more. >> yes. attorney general? >> you know, i'll add to that. my earlier focus about, you know, in carving out the exception, we may well have lost the ability to defend the tcpa as a constitutional matter. because, again, in our experience going up through the indiana and in the seventh circuit court of appeals. it was because we didn't distinguish between the types of calls being prohibited, it was neutral. once you start today carve this out -- i think it almost goes back to the point about looking at these things differently. the very different part about creating a better defense, we're not against defending. and i think it would go a long way to eliminate some of the frivolous litigation. i'm not here to defend the trial bar. but i think to create a better defense as opposed to an
exception. once you've got these exceptions, our ability to defend the statutes is compromised. >> you point to a rise in the phone scams involving government impersonation. i know often these scams involve someone spoofing to try to fool a victim into thinking they're someone calling from the government. if we don't pass this hang up act, or some kind of strong anti-spoofing legislation, do you think you would see more of this going on? >> well, i got a little bit numb to it until they started to spoof using office of the indiana attorney general. >> there you go. >> i'll stand as outraged. >> okay. that's pretty bad. you've had people use your own office name as -- what were they calling to say that they wanted to do? >> there were a number of issues. again, the fact that i was constantly telling people, you know, to be careful of this. the spoofing. and that you can't really rely on it. they can put any number up
there. okay it's another violation of the law. but by the time they were using mine it was because we were so public about, of course, you can trust the office of the attorney general. what little credibility my office tries to maintain and trust, i was being used against us. >> exactly. it's been 13 years now since the do not call registry was started. there are more than 222 million numbers on the list. there are more complaints than ever. robo calls and text spamming have proliferated due to advanced technologies which were discussed here earlier. again, to both of you, you know that more needs to be done to protect consumers. what in your opinion is the limitations of the do not call program in addressing the current robo calling problem? >> i think we've mentioned it here and it's the spoofing problem.
and while i very much appreciate senator nelson's bill on anti-spoofing, we really think that the law needs to be much more heavy handed and require that the cell phone -- all of the phone of the phone companies adopt anti-spoofing technology. i find it very is hard to believe in this day in age -- >> when the technology is out there. >> attorney general? >> the idea of having some ability to stop all of the illegal ones that are being done from overseas, i think that's something that technology has gotten us into this problem and need to focus on how can it get out so when the fcc passed their recent regulation, i know the carriers were concerned that they were going to require the
use of the tech nomg to block the overseas calls. when that wasn't in there, there was a sigh of relief but we were hoping it would be. >> i brought along a phone from 1992. the size of it is only exceeded by its weight. it would make a good boat anchor. this is 25 years old. it's approximately the same time the last time the tcpa was enacted. we can see how far technology has come from this device to what i have in my hand. it's reduced the need for a lot of phone calls because the power of the knowledge where i can
make an airline reservation i can do a lot of things here. 25 years later unwanted phone calls are still among the top consumer complaints. even when consumers do file lawsuits for violations, it seems like the trial lawyers are the only ones that truly benefit. i have heard the tcpa has even been referred to with the nickname the total cash for plaintiffs attorneys. consumers are still receiving unwanted calls. your testimony you said the average pay out to the trial lawyers on a case was $2.4 million while the consumer average pay out was $4.12. is the tcpa really helping
consumers today. >> i just really don't think that it is. the abuses that are happening on the litigation side mean that it's really become a lawyer driven constitute when we have the suits for it. and the kinds of calls that are driving everyone crazy, and i get them too. the spoofed calls and that's not what is getting. nobody would sue for that. there's no pocket at the end of it. so i have a restaurant client that had an opt in put on their menu if you want to get our coupons on a weekly basis. text us this and we'll start sending them to you. this thing that a lot of people joined up for and were doing. one text message that was sent that one plaintiffs lawyer brought a suit on and suddenly my client is facing $32 million in statutory damages for that single text message that went to the club.
>> they are not inundating them with texts and faxes. but they are trying to reach their customers to remind them of appointments or alert them to a potential service disruption. is it reasonable to ask small businesses to comply with the 2015 tcpa order? >> i think the interpretations provided by the fcc in 2015 were particularly damaging for small businesses. they have no way of checking -- they shouldn't have to check a database to see if the number they were provided by their own customer has suddenly been
reassigned. it's expensive for a small business to have to turn to manual dialing in order to reach their customers. >> so i grew up in a small business. my mom and dad owned a construction business. their compliance department would be my mom and dad versus a large business where it could be an entire wing of a headquarters building. so what kinds of compliance costs and challenges with these small businesses face? >> in order to be completely sure that they are using dialing equipment that won't trigger tcpa liability, they'd have to invest in a rotary phone, if they could find one. they would have to try to figure out on a regular basis whether the numbers that they have been
provided are still accurate. i don't have dollar figures for you. even my large clients, who have thousands of employees have a difficult time trying to figure out how to manage tcpa risk. i can't imagine what a small company would have to do. >> i want to bring up this issue of rural health care in states from more rural states. if you visit montana, hospitals are not around every corner. patients rely on technology to communicate with their doctors often times. can you explain how the application impacts patients and world communities who do not have easy access to a clinic? >> certainly. i would think that the impact on a rural community would be more devastating than one in a metropolitan community. the interaction between the physician and health care provider is a sacred
relationship. if there is this ability to follow up on in patient care to provide instructions with regard to further care, remind people about prescription pickups, appointments, it all would be devastating to the effectiveness of the health care that's provided. one of the things that the health care community is trying to do is cut down on readmissions. it's a strain on when a patient isn't treated the first time in the rush to discharge them. with adequate instruction and interaction between the caregiver and the patient, readmissions will reduce and the overall cost of health care will go down. the inability to use the most current technology to pursue that end is devastating to the industry and just causes more cost and more administrative draining of revenue that impacts on patient care. it reduces the availability of the caregiver to the patient. that's the essence of the relationship with regard to health care. >> thank you.
>> thank you, senator. just want to know where the senator from montana came up with that vanilla ice. please tell me you got that in a museum. >> we did. i see him doing curls in the gym every day with this. senator blumenthal? >> thanks, mr. chairman. if there is a form of consumer complaint that is common and passionate among the people of connecticut, it is unwanted calls. whether from telemarketers or local officials or politicians and among those calls the most aggravating and annoying are the robocalls. if we overlook the anger and
aggravation caused by these calls, we are doing a great disservice to the people of america and they want stronger measures like the ones that i and senator markey have composed that give consumers more control over the calls they receive. that's essentially it. whether it's from government authorities, there's no question in my mind that the present law needs to be updated and upgraded to provide better, swifter, stronger protection. because this problem is only going to increase. you do now what i used to do for 20 years. and a lot of your mandate is
consumer protection. are you finding an increase in the number of complaints as i have receive d from a 76-year-od woman in dayville, connecticut, who says to me i'm weary of all the robocalls i receive. can't the senate address this issue, which seems to be noncontroversial to me. a 76-year-old research scientist. i have reams of complaints from people who are upset about these calls. every day i get unwanted robocalls. i have reported these to the no-call list people, but nothing is done. that's the reason that we have a private right of action. public authorities are doing perhaps less than they should. what's your experience? >> senator, as a former attorney
general as well as senator ayotte and sullivan, you all remember the days where we literally did have some protection. i think particularly in indiana and missouri, which had the strongest of all do not call laws, we literally had had quiet at home. so i think going from the p perspective from where people knew they could be stopped, that something was going right, their government had protected them to the point where now the vast majority have taken out their land lines. when i tell them believe it or not the u.s. congress is thinking about opening up new exemptions to allow robocalling to cell phones, they are outraged. so again, not to say that it might diminish the high standing that the congress has held by the public, but you really risk the fear that people are going to come here with pitch forks and torches because this is a
very passionate and i have plenty of those same stories. so you're right on the money. >> i think you're right. for a congress that has done so little to now do something so bad as to dilute the laws would be outrageous. the calls are incredulous. let me ask by the phone companies. because giving consumers control, empowering consumers is basically the goal of these laws. it's not to restrict calls that consumers want. it's to enable consumers to stop the calls that they find
bothersome, annoying, intrusive, invasive and worse. >> i think you'll need to ask the phone companies why they u won't employ those call blocking methodologies. i would point to the example of what this congress did 40 years ago when it passed the consumer protection credit act putting the burden on banks for losses when there was credit card fraud. because the banks had that burden, the banks have been very vigorous in developing anti-fraud protections. so there's very little losses because of the losses that are suffered. if the phone companies had the same losses that were resulted from robocalls overseas telemarketing spamers, they would be very quick to employ
very vigorous anti-spoofing and robocall blocking technologies. >> thank you. my time has expired. i have many more questions and many more comments. i will put them in the record. i do believe that the present penalties and tcpa are inadequate for the bad actors and repeated violators and hope we can strengthen this important federal measure. thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator blumenthal. senator markey? >> thank you, mr. chairman, very much. i enjoy this conversation. because we're kind of in the way back machine to a certain extent. holds up a cell phone from 1992. because when i authored this law in 1991, i am the author of it, it was because there was an
epidemic of calls that were going into people's homes. there were no laws. so people were almost afraid to look at their phone at night because it would just start to ring at 6:00 and it wouldn't stop until 9:30 or 10:00 at night. so we had to put a law in the books so i was the chairman of the telecommunications committee. and to senator dane's point about the primitive nature, i also knew we were putting in 200 mega hertz of spectrum to create the sixth cell phone license in america that everyone would have one in their pocket by the year 1995. so that's how quickly that all changed. so we were building in, i was building in consumer protections. now when people hold this phone in their pocket right now and it
starts to ring, people say, it's probably somebody i know. i think i'll take the call on my wireless device. i think i'll take it. why? because the protections in it that law in 1991 are very high for wireless devices. it's probably somebody you know. that's what you think. but when the phone is ringing at home at night, even today that land line phone, people look at it almost terrorize d. it could be somebody i don't know. it could be somebody that's going to harass me. it could be somebody that's calling me the same way they were in 1991 or 2001. that's the truth. should we change the laws to make it easier to call people on these wireless devices? i don't think so. because it's personal. it's on you. how much of an intrusion would that be on people to have that phone going off all day long with these robocalls. by the way, what happens, these
firms have moved overseas. but who is paying them? people in america are paying people in india to be harassing people so they can get around the laws. that's what's going on. we should try to figure out how to make the laws tougher so these offshore overseas calls are harder to make. so if i can -- the consumer should be protected first. i was there the first year it was established. working there as a law student researcher. can you talk a little bit about this concept of consent and whether or not it might be possible to have the information come in by e-mails or the
consumer be able to respond by e e-mails rather than having the phone be ringing. >> i u think the first point needs to be made is there's not a constitutional right to make robocalls. and before the automated systems developed, businesses communicated quite well with their customers through manual dial calls or e-mails or the olden days snail mail. i remember getting calls from my credit card company where i actually had a person on the line who said there's a suspicious activity. is this really your credit card use?
>> let me ask you we're talking about last year a relaxation of the laws in terms of being able to call people who have debt. now it's easier to harass them by phone. can you each talk about that and those who have debt in our country. >> in the beginning when people sign up for debt, to get their opt in as part of the transaction and again i'll agree that we could make that defense
so i'm not here to defend. so tightening up a better line of defense, but i would point out that it's the exceptions that i'm nervous about. and when we went up to the circuit, because we had no exceptions the political free speech against personal privacy, two important constitutional rights and we won base ued on the fact that it was not limiting free speech. there's plenty of opportunities to speak just not our ringing the phones. so be careful of the difference between that defensive side, which again, we would support bolstering. don't make exceptions because you have suddenly picked winners and losers and the courts won't allow those limitations on free speech. >> could i ask to respond a little bit? that it will assist them in
paying back the debt is somewhat flawed. i think the record is full of examples of both consumers who owe the debt and consumers who don't owe the debt being called numerous times. it's also not helpful and against -- not in furtherance of good public policy to bother people into paying a debt. >> last year's budget act, there was a provision that was snuck into a must-pass legislation that makes it easier for debt collectors to call consumers, 40 million students who owe student loans. it makes it easier for them to do that. i have introduced the hang up act that we just stop that and absolutely irresponsible.
i ask unanimous consent to add two letters to the record. and one from 16 consumer groups who have written in the act. >> let me just act one last question and this gets to the point of other regulatory bodies. i think you indicated that some don't have the same views when it comes to communicating with consumers via cell phone have other regulators seen consumer benefits in communicating with consumers via mobile phone or text message. >> thank you for the question. the consumer financial protection board has an early
intervention rule that encourages communications. the modification program, the federal deposit insurance corporation, the federal trade commission, the consumer product safety commission have all discussed the benefits of outbound communications both by call and by text. there are also state laws that require outbound communications because they see the value in that. >> i just want to make one final point. nobody is proposing that cob assumers shouldn't have the right to stop calls a the any point. even with the obama robocall carve out that was mentioned a couple times today that passed last fall. the proposed rules would allow consumers to demand that a caller stop calling immediately. even in that particular circumstance. i also want to be very clear
there is strong bipartisan interest in ensuring that consumers are protected from harassing robocalls. the problem we have is the tcpa is no longer working as well as it should. as we have heard, all of us are plagued by unwanted calls, even on our cell phones, which is the point ms. saunders was getting all the. at the same time, you have legitimate companies facing lawsuits and consumers are being denied information that they need. i think what this cries out for is a balance solution. your input today and testimony has been very helpful in elevating these issues and getting a discussion. frankly, i thought hearing some perhaps common ground when it comes to the bad, the harassing, the bad actors and the good actors. perhaps we'll be able to find a way to come up with some solutions that reflect that.
i want to thank you for being here. >> mr. chairman, is it possible i could ask one more question? >> i kind of expected that would happen. so one more question. >> i appreciate that and know it's unwanted intrusion. last year's surface transportation bill, the fact ast act included a provision requiring the irs to hire private debt collectors to collect certain unpaid taxes. that means the irs is hiring many people to go after those who may be unable to pay their taxes. this provision couple d with th tcpa carve out in the budget deal will open the flood gates to ro bocalling millions of americans. it coincide with the rise of tax
and debt collection scams as a serious problem costing americans millions and millions of dollars. last year bogus tax scams topped the better business bureau's list of top scams of 2015 with over 32% of all scam reports about phoney tax and debt collectors. so attorney general, will these two changes in the budget and transportation laws on robocalls make it harder for consumers to protect themselves from fraudulent tax and debt collectors? >> there's no question looking at those two coupled together that there was this interest. the must pass budget i think this idea of making the carve out exception really puts consumers at risk because we have told people the irs will not call you.
that's don't worry if that you do to get the call. this is not going to be a very effective tool to try to go after people other than the harassment that if that's supposed to get things done. i guess i would leave it that this carve out with the exception is going to make the constitutional question about whether the federal government has now made winners and losers in an area which is really covered with free speech. so you may have really killed the whole tcpa by that carve out. >> so they become electronic as debt collectors are just bothering you all night long. do you agree with the attorney general? >> yes i do. >> thank you. i appreciate it. mr. chairman, i think we should tread carefully. >> we do very much thank you for being here and taking the time and for responding to our questions. we will keep the hearing record open for two weeks during which
donald trump holds a fundraiser this evening with new jersey governor chris christie u. it's at the national guard armory in lawrenceville, new jersey. we'll hear from governor christie and the presumptive nominee. that's live on our companion network c-span at 7:00 p.m. eastern. and sunday night on c-span, the state opening of the british parliament. queen elizabeth delivered a speech on the priorities for the coming year and sunday night at 9:00 p.m. eastern we'll show you parliament's coverage of the state opening of parliament. >> it marks the opening of the smithsonian museum of african-american history and culture. on saturday morning beginning at
8:30 "american history tv" is live for an all day conference with scholars from across the country discussing topics including african-american religion, politics and culture. historic preservation and interpretation. at 10:00 p.m. eastern on reel america, the 1975 church committee hearings convened invest the activities of the cia, fbi, irs and nsa. the commission hears testimony from two informants and how she penetrated an anti-vietnam war organization and gary thomas roe who infiltrated the clan and civil rights activists. >> the policemen set up the beating and you told the fbi that? >> that's correct. >> were they beaten? >> they were beaten very badly. >> did the birmingham police give you the time that they promised to give you to perform the beating. >> yes, sir, we were promised 15 minutes with absolutely no
intervention from no police officer whatsoever. >> then at 8:00 -- >> what that opportunity gave them was an opportunity to go to college. they saved some of that money. they become doctors and lawyers. one became the first female manager of any department. they became principles, surgeons, politicians, pilots and they had access to professional baseball. >> marshal university professor kat williams on how women aided the war efforts. and the rise of women's baseball leagues including the all american girls professional baseball league that was
featured in the movie "a league of their own." sunday night at 10:00 on road to the white house rewind u. >> ladies and gentlemen of the convention, my name is geraldine. america is the land where dream cans come true for all of us. >> the 1984 vice president acceptance speech of jerel dean at the democratic national convention in san francisco. she was the first woman to be nominated for vice president by a major party. for the complete "american history tv" schedule, go to c-span.org. now a hearing on allegations of misconduct against several environmental protection agency employees. three employees are accused of
looking at important pornograph and a fourth made unwelcome advances towards female interns and employees. it's an hour u and 45 minutes. >> the chair is authorized to declare a recess at any time. it's a topic we have addressed a few times but it doesn't seem to be getting better. so we'll continue to high ligt this as long as it takes.
but you have some bad apples and they are not being dealt with or addressed. i look forward to talking about this. he and his team have done good work and we'll continue to do this until we're convinced that the epa is taking care of this problem. today the committee is exploring numerous cases of misconduct at the epa. as the committee on oversight and government reform in addition to the broad responsibility for oversight of the executive branch, we're also for federal employees. it is our duty to explore the problems in the federal workforce. this committee examined the extraordinary case of john biel. john biel was a senior employee reporting to then epa air office chief jena mccarthy who falsely
claimed to be a cia spy. this this wept on for a long time. this person went to jail having to pay one of the few people held accountable having to go to jail paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution, but her supervisor got a proportion. now that she has a large office, these problems continue to persist. unfortunately the fraud is not isolated. the head of office of homeland security had a lengthy record of sexual harassment but was not properly investigated. whistleblowers placed blame for reaching toxic culture on former
region 5 administrator, who resign eed under duress becausef the flint water crisis. remarking on this situation a union representative testified, quote, there's a serious lack of accountability or transparency at epa when a manager is the problem, end quote. these incidents represent a systemic cultural problem and failure at the epa. recently the epa inspector general's office released details on investigations of more than 60 cases of misconduct closed in the last several months. many of these cases contained disturbing details. i recognize this is c-span and an early hour, but parents be fore worned this is not a subject for young kids at any hour but we need to expose it in order to solve it. a child molester was on ep aerks's payroll for years.
even after the epa learned of this offense. what's so terrible about this situation and just can't not explain or justify the ep ara ks that this person is a convicted child molester and yet the epa put them in a position to interact with the public. he was out there literally exercise acting with the public. this person had police sirens placed on their personal vehicle, on their personal car. counterfeit badge. it wasn't until a probation violation that it got high u light lighted. she admitted taking seven times equipment in the office and taking it to a pawnshop and putting it in her pocket and she's not fired.
actually oversaw this person. it's just unbelievable this person was not fired. after her felony theft conviction, she is still employed at the epa to this day. we have a lot of good hard working people who want and need jobs. who will serve this country honorably. why in the world should somebody convicted of stealing from work still enjoy the employment and be paid by the taxpayers. we have pages and pages of similar cases. one has to wonder if the culture and lack of accountability is a contributing factor to tragedies like the king mine spill or the flint drinking water crisis. the status quo cannot continue and they will continue to investigate the epa until cultural changes and employees are held accountable for their
failures. people are going to make mistakes. we understand that. these are not mistakes. these are patterns of misbehavior that aren't okay. the official personnel file enhancement act requires to record any adverse findings from investigations into a separated official personnel file. i hope this helps so that these employees cannot toggle from one agency to the other without having their information shared with others. the bill prevents an employee facing disciplinary action from simply jumping ship to another eight si that would not be aware of their negative disciplinary record. we have another case here where somebody was devices and air cards used excessively. one case the person in one trip, i don't know how you do this, spent $18,000 on one air card
traveling and no restitution. no paying back the government. we have the devices. we have this $4,500 in personal international calls while on leave. what was the punishment for that? taxpayers have to pay that. what was the punishment? counselling. counselling was the punishment. so we have a lot to talk about. the inspector general has done a good job on this and look forward to a good fruitful hearing. with that, we will recognize the ranking member. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i do thank you for holding today's hearing examining employee misconduct at the environmental protection agency. this is the third hearing our committee has held on this topic. i am encouraged that the epa's response to allegations of employee misconduct has vastly
improved. i, like you, want to be effective and efficient. i do not want to constantly hold hearings and hear about these problems. at some point, we should be able to get them resolved. serious employee misconduct is rare. but ashis committee has seen too often, the expecter general responses to misconduct cases have taken far too long. at the committee's hearing in april 2015, a little over a year ago, i asked the epa and the ig to work together to improve their coordination and employee misconduct matters. i did that again so we could be effective and efficient to get things done as opposed to going round in a circle. i u also directed my staff to work with ep ara to help develo
new protocols to improve their disciplinary processes. as a result, the epa and the ig are coordinating their efforts as they never did before. we can do even better. they are communicating more frequently about administrative actions. they are sharing reports of investigation with agency managers and senior officials at epa headquarters. but we can always do better. they have developed expedited procedures for certain cases. the outcomes are indeed promising. they have decreased the time it
takes for action on employee misconduct. in his testimony, the epa credits the new information sharing process with contributing to epa's saking action more quickly after the ig completes an investigation. mr. sullivan greaagrees, and i to thank you for doing such a great job. he concluded the misconduct cases are being addressed faster and more consistently by the epa management. but we can always do better. as i said serious misconduct is rare, but we have to take it seriously. epa reports it has only 14 open employee misconduct reports of investigation from the ig. for an epa workforce of some 15,000, that's less than one
tenth of 1%. but we can do better. this committee also has expressed concern about excessive use of administrative leave. that's been a major concern of the committee. a check that addresses our concern about overuse of administrative leave and the need for strong er oversight of this leave. the chairman indicated that the hearing today will focus on approximately 20 old cases that had been closed by the ig some years ago. as mr. sullivan states in his testimony, and i quote, it is
important to note that most of the misconduct occurred at least two years ago, end quote. in some of these cases, the misconduct is, in fact, egregious. such behavior requires a swift and appropriate agency response. but none of these cases is currently pend iing. they are all closed. i want to be clear. i don't see anything wrong with looking back because i think sometimes you have to look back so that you can effectively and efficiently move forward. we can learn from things that have happened. so i don't have a problem with that. according to the epa and the ig, all of these cases proceeded the improved coordination process between the epa and ig. i hope that you, mr. sullivan, will address the difference you're seeing and the impact and i'm sure you have your recommendations. mr. sullivan states that the new coordination process between epa and the ig should serve as, and i quote, a best practices model
for the federal government, end of quote. so i'm extremely pleased to hear that. it shows what we can do if we work hard with the agencies and investigators to improve their procedures. this type of work does not always get the big headlines. but it makes a real difference. it also shows this committee what we can do through nuts and bolts oversight. while i'm encouraged by the progress that has been made, i believe there are still challenges that we must and can and shall address. for instance, long investigation times in some cases may suggest a need for more resources for the i.g. i just don't know. you'll have to address that, mr. sullivan. there are certainly other cases that raise questions about when employees are required to report criminal convictions. mr. chairman, as we proceed, i hope we can address these challenges together in a truly
bipartisan way, like we have done over the past year. with input from the agency and the ig and other stake holders, because it's a fact that if we concentrate and try to get the ig and the agencies to work more closely together, i think we can get the kind of results that we are after and again, we can be more effective and efficient. with that, i yield back. >> i thank the gentleman. we'll hold the record open for five legislative days for any members that would like to submit a written statements. we'd like to welcome our witnesses. the acting deputy administrator for the united states environmental protection agency. we also have mr. patrick sullivan, assistant inspector general for investigations at the office of the inspector general at the united states environmental protection agency. he is accompanied by mr. allen will u yiam williams, the deputy assistant inspector general, whose expertise may be needed for
specificity on certain topics during questioning. we want to thank you all for being here. we're going to go ahead and swear in mr. williams as well. pursuant to rules, all witnesses are to be sworn before they testify. we'll also swear in mr. williams. if the three of you would rise and raise your right hand. do you solemnly swear the testimony you're about to give will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? let the record reflect that all witnesses answered in the affirmative. you have testified here before. i think you know the drill.
>> thank you for the opportunity to testify today. i have had the privilege of working at epa for nearly 40 years holding positions at our headquarters in washington, d.c., our regional offices in atlanta and dallas as well as research triangle park in north carolina. for 18 years i served as the deputy regional administrator before retiring in 2014. since returning to the agency in october, i have been honored to serve as acting deputy administrator discharging the duties of chief operating officer for the agency. each day i'm reminded of the excellent work. from any engineers and scientists in the field to our technical expert here's in headquarters. i'm proud to be a parking lot of the agency and its vision to
prote protect. in all workplaces there are employees who engage and epa is no exception. when such unfortunate instances occur, we are committed to holding our employees accountable. we have and will continue to work with the powers granted to us by congress and the administrative tools at our disposal to ensure proper conduct is met with appropriate penalties. excellence is recognized accordingly. i must stress that the isolated misconduct of a few does not reflect and must not over 15,000 epa employees who commit themselves every day to the important work of the agency. since my appearance last spring, we have made multiple changes to the management policies and procedures. epa has taken to support our first line supervisor who is carry responsibility in ensuring the misconduct is addressed
promptly and appropriately. we have updated the first supervisors tool kit we are able to take effective disciplinary action for the betterment of the agency as a whole. in addition, earlier this year as was noted in the comments, the agency revised its policy on administrative leave addressing a concern that this committee has raised in the past. the agency now demands justification and review for administrative leave requests and limits the time period of leave to ten days with limited exceptions such as when an employee poses a danger to the agency and its employees. finally, earlier this year, epa administrator issued an agency-wide elevation memo encouraging staff to raise issues of concern to be receptive to these concerns. it's our hope that this
directive in conjunction with providing training and tools to our employees will help our first line supervisors to address misconduct quickly and effectively when issues arise. in addition to our own work, the epa's office of inspector general plays a critical role in addressing misconduct and helping operate at our best. as a result of the work of this committee and especially ranking member cummings, we have improved our working relationship with the inspector general which has enabled us to take more action. procedures and time lines for effective information sharing. these meetings and the improved by lateral communication contribute to the epa taking action more quickly upon oig's completion of investigations and helped reduce the need for fact finding by the agency in
preparing administrative actions. in closing, epa and its employees have spent nearly five decades working to safeguard public health in the environment for the people of this country. i am proud of what we accomplish every day. on the rare occasions when misconduct occurs, we must address it appropriately. i look forward to discussing the progress that epa has made in this regard with you today. thank you for the opportunity and i look forward to answering any questions you may have. >> good morning, chairman, ranking member cummings. i'm the assistant inspector general for both the epa and csb. i'm happy to report since i last testified in april of 2015 the agency's process has dramatically improved. at the suggestion of both the chairman and ranking member, the oig and agency meet biweekly about misconduct cases and their
adjudication. they are being addressed faster and more consistently by management. i believe this process can serve as a best practices model for the federal government. many allegations against epa and employees are by the oig. the investigations often clear an individual. our job is to collect and present facts in a fair and unbiassed manner. we are in the cases that clear an employee as we are when our work leads to a criminal conviction. now i'd like to briefly discuss a few significant cases. in 2014 the oig field office contractor who had previously worked for epa for the past 20 years stating he was addicted to pornography for the last 18 years and the past year he watched at least one to two hours per day. he avoided detection for many years because he used commercial software to scrub his computer.
he also used search engines hosted in a foreign nation. the contractor was fired by the company. the oig was successful in recovering $22,000 in payments, the amount of time he viewed pornography, and the oig made aware the vulnerabilities that enabled the contractor to develop detection. in 2013 the oig was notified that a special agent assigned to the epa's criminal investigation division in new haimpb may have been engaged in a ponzi scheme. the navigation of a four level pyramid scheme. new participants in the scheme would pay a gift to the person occupying the top level. the oig investigation determined that the epa had made a false statement on a financial disclosure form where she concealed the fact she received $2,500 in cash from our participation in the scheme. in 2015 the special agent retired from the epa.
she pleased guilty to one felony count of making false statements and sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay $8,000 in fines and restitution. an oig special agent in the atlanta field office proactively checked a list of property reportedly lost or stolen through a law enforcement database. this search resulted in a hit on a digital camera pawned in georgia. the scent oig investigation revealed that on other several occasion they pawned cameras and cam corders at the pawnshop resulting in a loss to the government of $3,100. the u.s. attorney declined federal prosecution. we were successful in presenting the case to local prosecutor and the employee pled guilty and was sentenced to three years probation in order to pay restitution. this was a felony conviction. the employee supervised proposed suspension for 120 days. following an appeal by the employee, the reason for a deputy administrator downgraded to 30 days.
in 2006 the oig field office was informed that a civilian employee was cited by the dallas police for improper use of emergency light ossen his personal vehicle while also being a registered sex offender. he had been convicted in 1997 for indecent acts with a minor. the employee also possessed an imitation badge that accompanied his e credentials which were displayed to the police officer. in 2006 the u.s. attorney declined to prosecute the employee for false impersonation of a federal officer. epa imposed discipline in the form of a suspension. the dallas police sex offender unit requested assistance from the oig in arresting the employee for violation of probation. he was arrested on the probation violation charge. the oig also developed information that the employee may have viewed and pez possessed child pornography on his computer. an examination of the computer revealed no evidence of this.
the employee was terminated. the merit systems protection board overturned the termination and ordered that he be rehired. in 2015 they entered into a settlement agreeme agreement. in closing, i would like to say that we pledge we will continue to work closely with the agency, the department of justice, and congress to insure that allegations of misconduct are quickly and properly addressed. we appreciate your continued interest in the interest of the oig. i'll be happy to answer any questions. thank you very much. >> i'll now recognize myself for five minutes. let's go back to that most recent case with the child molester. conclude that part about the merit system's protection board. i mean, based on the brief evidence that you shared with us, the scenario of the case, what were the other considerations that he got in order to resign from the epa?
>> he received a cash settlement of $55,000, i believe. i have to check out. >> we paid -- the american people paid him $55,000 to walk away? >> yes. but the ig is not part of those negotiations. >> i'm not blaming you. you're the ones who actually highlighted this. mr. meiburg, it's hard to hold you personally responsible for this, but, i mean, we had to pay $55,000 to this person? >> mr. chairman, in this particular case, which i'm generally aware of, the case as mr. sullivan noted was one where we had proposed removal and in fact took removal action and were reversed by the merit system protection board. >> how do you lose that case? >> it is a complicated case. i'm not going to try to go into all the details, but the merit system protection board found the basis for the removal was not sustained and so they reversed it. >> so is it -- i mean, it's just
pretty stunning, isn't it? what needs to change? you both are close to this situation. what needs to change? how do we need to change the merit system's protection board? what's not happening is we're not protecting the american people and the taxpayers and not protecting the employees who have to sit by this freak of a pervert. we're not protecting them. so how do we protect the employees of the epa and the american taxpayers? what do we need to do with the merit systems protection board to get them to change? >> i would simply note a couple things. one is we share your desire to protect our own employees from any adverse reactions from other employees. there's a clear area where it's agreement. >> how is it this person can operate in this atmosphere for so long? in the case of dallas, how is it, mr. sullivan, you have lo looked at this case closely. how is it that this goes undetected for so long? it wasn't in our system.
>> well, it didn't go undetected. it was not reported to the ig. in 1999, our investigation revealed that the management regent six in dallas found out about his conviction and at that time, he was stopped again by the police for using lights and sirens. i don't know about the sirens. i know about the emergency lights. that was brought to the attention of epa management. he was counseled and told not to do that again, but it was never brought to the attention of the ig in 1999. >> and what was his position back in 1999? what was he doing? >> he was an enforcement officer doing civil inspections for the epa. >> his job would we what? >> to go to a site and determine if there were environmental violations. >> putting him out there, interacting with the public. mr. meiburg, how does this happen? if you know this person has to register as a sex offender, has this type -- why do you put them
in a position to have to interact with the public? >> mr. chairman, i don't believe there's any particular rule that says that if an employee is convicted of a crime in general that they have to then report that to the agency. >> should that be the case? should they have to report ongoing? >> mr. chairman, i think that's an important issue. we're happy to work with you and the office of personnel. >> i'm asking your personal opinion. do you believe if you're convicted of a felony -- >> mr. chairman, again, i'm here in my official capacity. >> as somebody who is convicted as a sex offender, is there an internal policy that prohibits those types of perverts from interacting with the public? >> we asked that question and we do not believe that we have the authority to institute a policy to that effect. and we're not different from other agencies in that regard. but it's an important issue, and
we agree with you on that. >> all right. somebody here on the panel better sponsor a bill to get rid of perverts interacting with the public because this is not acceptable. i can't imagine -- somebody comes with the authority of the epa badge, and then they've got sirens or lights on their car. and they're a registered sex offender. i mean, can you see the disconnect? why people would be outraged if they showed up at your place of business or work or some mom with their young child? and suddenly, you encounter this person. how do you stand for that? >> mr. chairman, again, certified badge law enforcement officials have special responsibilities. even more so than ordinary epa employees. >> i can't believe you lost that case. part of me thinks we're going to have to work here, let's get the merit systems protection board and explain themselves how they think this is in the best interest of the united states of america. my time is expired.
we'll recognize ms. watson coleman for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. good morning, gentlemen. thank you for being here. a lot of these cases, all the cases we're discussing were either resolved in 2014 or 2015. so these are kind of old cases, right? and so since then, we've had changes in our policies and practices at the epa that would -- that would at least address allegations of miski misconduct that come before them in terms of resolving them as well as administrative leave policies, is that not correct? >> yes, that's correct. we feel leak in the last year we have made considerable progress moving forward. i would agree with the ranking member that we can always do better, but we made considerable progress with having better communication. >> could you explain sort of briefly what specifically has
changed that you have informed the rank and file and the supervisors and what the process for holding them accountable, aside from just interacting with the oig? >> the interaction, well, in many ways, all of a piece. we have discussed with all of our employees the importance of first line supervisors and their responsibility and conduct in discipline cases. we have also, again, as i mentioned, on the administration, we made sure this could not be used and the use of administrative leave has been curtailed for more than ten days. the interaction involving the inspector general has been tremendously important because we refer cases to the inspector general when we have evidence of misconduct and ask the inspector general to investigate them. and it's very helpful in the course of that investigation to have the interaction we now do so that we can be clear that when we get information as quickly as possible we can move on it. >> so thank you.
mr. sullivan, are you feeling that this interaction is helping to create a better environment and more protective environment and a more accountable environment in the epa? >> yes. >> once you do an investigation, once something has been referred to you, you do an investigation. in addition to your findings, do you make any recommendations back to the epa about the employee that has been investigated? >> as the head of investigations for the epa, we do not make recommendations in our investigative reports. however, our auditors and our evaluators make recommendations as part of their job. that's a different part of the ig. in the typical misconduct investigation, we report the facts and just the facts and not make a recommendation. >> you would report the facts to the epa plus the auditing -- >> well, it depends, if we saw a cysystematic problem or a probl that was cross cutting.
in the investigation, we determined from the investigators' standpoint, there was some safeguards that weren't being followed. for example, they were batch approving mr. beal's tna, time and attendance every week, which was a vulnerability. so we reported that to our auditors and they did an audit. normally in our investigations, ma'am, we just report the facts concerning the specific allegation before us. >> do you feel that we have sufficiently moved in the right direction with epa holding people accountable and developing the kind of information sharing system and accountability system that will mitigate these kinds of cases in the future? not talking about the one about whether or not the individual who was a convicted sex offender should be hired, and if so, under what conditions, but otherwise. >> otherwise, i could tell you that in the past year, as mr. meiburg alluded to in his testimony and mine, are meeting
biweekly, we have streamlined the process and we have broken down some barriers and we have touched each other as human beings and managers addressing a problem. and again, i want to make it crystal clear, what our role is in the ig, office of investigations, we just report the facts. we have nothing to do with the disciplinary process. >> i have one quick question, both of you can answer quickly, hopefully, are there other things that should be happening, either on epa, on your side as the manager of the organization or as from your observation as the ig looking into the organization? have you discussed those things? are there things in the works now? >> i'm cite one thing we have in the works. we're frying to get additional employee labor support to our first line supervisors and make sure they have good on cases that come up. fortunately, for most of our first line supervisors, a conduct of discipline case is a rare thing.
when one comes up, we want to make sure they have a context for whatever action they may take. >> thank you. mr. sullivan, do you have anything to say to that in two seconds? >> yes, ma'am. we don't have enough agents to do the investigations. we have gone from 360 to 289, and i personally lost 15 to 20 agents that can no longer work cases. i'm always trying to play catch-up. >> i hope you have less cases to have to investigation. thank you. >> the gentleman from florida, mr. mica, recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. good to hold this hearing and review some of the conduct of some of the employees of epa. important responsibility in that agency to carry out. i had the opportunity to chair a civil service on this subcommittee on this panel some years ago.
and i'm a supporter of the civil service system, and it was set up decades and decades ago to protect civil servants, public employees, from abuse, being politically abused, relieved of their positions. isn't that pretty much the case, mr. meiburg and mr. sullivan? >> yes, congressman, it is. that's very important that we make sure that the system is not subject to -- >> not rigged to take hard-working people and then cast them out. on some political basis. and i think that should be protected. however, the reports we have here, i have 12 pages of some of the most egregious abuses. i can't find any instance in
which anyone was fired. did you say there were 15,000 epa employees? is that correct? >> more than that. yes, that's correct. >> did you say, mr. sullivan, you have 280 investigators? >> no, sir, we had 360 five years ago. now we're down to 289. >> 289 staff. what do they do? >> well, we have investigations. >> so they investigate. >> some auditors, some evalua r evaluators. >> within the -- i'm sorry, they're investigating, looking at reviewing the conduct of the 15,000 epa employees? >> i have 50 agents right now. >> 50, okay. last year, 2015, how many people were fired from epa? >> i would have to defer to mr. meiburg. >> how many were fired? >> i don't know.
>> were any ever fired for that misconduct? >> yes. >> can you supply -- do you think it's more than just my fingers and my toes? >> congressman, i'm going to -- i want to be clear about my answer. >> i tell you that almost nobody -- nobody here got fired. the only one actually dismissed was a contractor. now, what's troubling is some of the offenses, and then i just heard the deal cut to pay $55,000 in a settlement. was that true, mr. sullivan? you said you weren't involved in the settlement. >> that's true. >> was tat the pedophile? >> that was the child molester. >> we're paying child molesters $55,000. nobody gets fired. now, here's one. epa official in washington, gs level 15. gs level 15 in d.c. is getting a minimum of $125,000.
okay. this guy sat around for years, the past several years. and watched porno. and getting $125,000. and actually, i think he's still on the job. must be a great job where you can sit around, collect $125,000 a year. $90,000 a year, at least $90,000 a year in d.c. a search of the employee's epa issued computer found 507 porn agraphic images as well as a graphic porn ographic story. i won't go into all of that for public consumption here. the employee was issued a notice of proposed removal but retired. so nobody gets fired. the way out is most people either retire.
civil service was not set up to protect these folks. it was to protect folks against political manipulation. now, this has to be demoralizing to thousands and thousands of hard-working epa officials to see these people who either are involved in misconduct, misappropriation -- they were stealing money, and i can't find a single instance in which anyone was fired. they mostly retired. and when they retired, they get a pretty good retirement, don't they? they get their regular retirement? there's no penalty to their compensation when they retire, is there? >> congressman, under current law, there's no penalty. people can retire or resign at any time. >> and that is the m.o. you steal, you sit around and watch porno.
you get convictions outside, and you're either voluntarily resign and go to retirement, but nobody gets fired. i yield back. >> i thank the gentleman from florida. i recognize the gentleman from maryland, mr. cummings, for five minutes. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. let me try to understand, mr. sullivan. there are 14 open cases, is that right? >> that's not 100% accurate. mr. cummings, we have 14 cases pending at the agency in which we have already submitted the report of investigation. we have many, many more in the pipeline that we have not yet written a report of investigation. so we have approximately 90 pending misconduct cases right now. >> okay. and the reason why i ask that is
because i said to myself, now, you talked about the agents that are available to investigate, and i was saying to myself, 14 cases, i know it takes a lot of manpower, but so you have about 90 cases you're actually involved in? >> yes, mr. cummings, but we also have in excess of 150 additional cases, 97 fraud cases, contracting grand fraud, plus a number of threat investigations, a number of theft investigations, some assault investigations. so it runs a spectrum. but for the misconduct, we have currently 90 pending cases. 14 of which have already been presented to the agency and we're awaiting adjudication. the other 76 are in various processes of us investigating. >> when we have a situation where somebody is hired and then commits a serious felony, do they have a duty to report?
in other words, they're already hired. what's the situation there? and where do we draw the line there? >> well, mr. cummings, it's my understanding that for the most epa employees, there's no requirement to report either an arrest or a conviction. obviously, if you're a law enforcement officer like myself, you must report. if you're an attorney, you must report. if you work for the ig, you must report, or if you have a security clearance you must report an arrest or conviction. short of that short list, i don't believe there's any requirement for any epa employee to report either an arrest or a conviction. >> now, do you have an opinion on that? i'm just -- you know, i'm just wondering because i know one of the cases had a situation where somebody was convicted after they were hired. and with no duty to report, it's very interesting because when i practiced law, i saw a lot of
cases, not government cases, but others where people failed to report, and they were immediately fired. and when they found out. so we don't -- are there other agencies that where they have to -- the list is longer than that? >> yes. like for myself, i have been a federal law enforcement officer my entire adult life and worked for the fbi and the secret service and the federal air marshals and in those agencies you to absolutely immediately report and arrest and certainly a conviction. whether you're carrying a gun or a civilian employee. you is to report. i was a little surprised when i came to epa and i learned the epa rank and file employees did not have to do that. i accepted that as that's the rules, but i was a little curious as to why for the sake of knowing, for if you put trust and confidence in a particular employee, it may affect your judgment or your decision making if you knew the person was just convicted of say theft or
embezzlement in a private life. >> tell me this. we were just talking about a case where somebody received counseling, some kind of counseling. when you look at the counselling situation there at epa, do you think it's helpful? i mean, do you think it's strong enough? do you think -- and what -- maybe mr. meiburg can answer this. what triggers counselling? in other words, how do i determine whether somebody should have counselling and that be a part of, say, keeping them on. and i know you don't have a lot to do with the final say, but i was just -- mr. meiburg. >> thank you, ranking member. it depends, the short answer is it depends on the case and what the nature of the offense was. if it was created out of ignorance or the employee did not know what a rule was, then counselling may be appropriate. each one of those cases has to be evaluated on its own merits
based on the facts of the case and the rules and regulations. >> my time is running out. ms. coleman asks you where we go from here. tell me clearly, what would you like to see done so that we can be effective and efficient and so that we can basically put you out of a job? >> well, mr. cummings -- >> not trying to get rid of you, but you understand what i am saying. >> thank you, sir. i appreciate that. i'm concerned when we have an investigation and because i don't have enough special agents to expeditiously investigate allegati allegations, we eventually get to them, but the old saying justice delays is justice denied, i'm concerned that i don't have under agents to adequately and immediately address some of these allocations. that's why i have so many cases in the pipeline. if you do the math, my average in my office of professional responsibility, which is a special unit i have at headquarters doing essentially gs-15s and political appointees,
they average 9.5 cases each and the agents in the field average approximately seven cases each. a lot of the cases in the field are multimillion dollar fraud investigations that are very involved. i simply do not have enough agents to expeditiously investigate every case that i have on my plate. >> will you continue to work with us to try to come up with solutions to the problems? i got the money thing. i agree with you, but you have been -- you and mr. meiburg have been wonderful for sitting down and trying to work out things. will you continue to do that, sir? >> absolutely. it's beneficial to my office and to the agency as a whole because we can move things down the field much quicker. >> thank you very much. >> i thank the gentleman from maryland. the gentleman from georgia, mr. hice, recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. several of the cases of employee misconduct that has been reported from the ig took place in region four, where you,
mr. meiburg, were the administrator. one of the cases in particular that is on my mind, took place on your watch, referring to a gs-12 employee making over $100,000 a year. was found to be stealing thousands of dollars of property from the epa, in fact, the individual pled guilty to felony theft and was placed on three years probation. but astonishingly, only received 30 days suspension from the epa. mr. meiburg, my obvious question is how in the world can an employee be found guilty and admit to felony criminal charges of stealing from the epa and not be fired? >> congressman, i'll speak to that case. as you note, i was the deciding official. this was -- and i want to be clear that there's not a question about whether what the employee did was wrong.
what the employee did was wrong and she needed to be held accountable for doing something wrong. when the case comes forward. >> it was criminal. >> the criminal conviction, the felon in the court case occurs after disciplinary action. there are two paths, as you probably know, where you go on this. one is the path of administrative dismcipline and the other is referral to u.s. attorney or local authorities. at the time, we took administrative discipline. the case was what was appropriate given the information we had from the investigation report, which we did. >> so, you know, it's astonishing to me there's a 30-day suspension is all that someone gets for even pleading guilty of felony theft. we've got the taxpayers on the hook for this type of behavior. and so you were the
administrator. were you involved in determining the disciplinary action? >> yes, i was the deciding official in that case. >> so in deciding on that case, you're saying that you are not aware of the criminal charges when you made the final decision? >> i was generally aware that there was a possibility proceeding, but i did not know what the outcome of that was. >> but you were aware of thousands of dollars that had been stolen? >> i was aware that approximately $3,000 in camera equipment had been pawned and lost to the agency through that transaction. >> in your determining decision, that was only worth a 30-day suspension? >> there were many factors. and any individual case, there are many factors that the deciding official uses. they're generally referred to as the douglas factor, b there are many factors that the deciding official uses in deciding what an appropriate penalty would be. i'm obligated by law to consider all of those in reaching a decision on the penalty.
>> it's just amazing to me that the agency doesn't do more to punish people who are stealing from the agency, who even plead guilty to criminal theft and they still have the right and privileges on the shoulders of taxpayers to continue working for the agency. i just can't wrap my mind around this. this committee has heard time and again of the epa literally plagued with constant employee misconduct. and yet at the same time, epa routinely goes after businesses across this country for much less serious offenses and throws fine after fine after fine to businesses that often are doing virtually nothing in comparison. we hear stories of businesses
all the time for slight infractions, getting serious fines, and yet here we have the epa in a double standard, having employees involved in criminal behavior, and they just get 30 days suspensions or less. it's an absolute hypocritical double standard. and it's disgusting, not only to me to hear these kind of things, but the american people are fed up with this kind of stuff. they get slapped time and time again with fines because a ladder is in the wrong place or whatever the slight infraction may be. and yet you guys are putting up with this, the state of the affairs of the epa to me is totally unacceptable, mr. chairman. and i just believe that the epa wants to trust of the american people and this committee, they have a long ways to go to get their house in order. and i yield back. thank you. >> i thank the gentleman from georgia. mr. carter is recognized for five minutes.
>> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. sullivan, in march of 2014, an epa employee was arrested, jailed, and indicted for marijuana possession. it's my understanding that this particular employee had a grow operation and was arrested on felony possession charges. in fact, i believe you highlighted this in your november 2015 report that on the epa's use of taxpayer dollars for extended administrative leave for employees who had been suspended for misconduct. according to that report, this employee was placed, mr mr. meiburg, you listening? according to that report, this employee was placed on administrative leave for seven and a half months. is that correct? >> yes, sir, mr. carter. >> that's not -- tell me it's not correct. >> it's correct, sir. >> it is correct? >> yes. >> okay. again, he was charged with
felony possession. he had a grow operation. and he was put on administrative leave and paid for seven and a half months? >> yes, sir. >> as i understand it, the epa policy only allows for ten days of administrative leave when employees commit a crime for which they could be imprisoned, is that correct? >> that is correct, but that's the new policy, mr. carter. i'll defer to mr. meiburg. >> i'll get to mr. meiburg. >> it's a new policy. >> a new policy implemented after this? >> yes. >> okay. so it wouldn't apply then? >> no. the ten-day limit did not apply then. >> so that's why we paid him for seven and a half months. >> i can't explain why. >> i'm sure i can't either. even if you could, i couldn't understand why. do you know that -- mr. meiburg, why would the epa do this? explain to me that.
why would you do this? >> congressman, i can't speak to the particulars on this case and what judgments were made by the individual deciding. >> who can? we need them here. >> that would have had to have been the regional office where this event occurred. >> who makes these decisions? you know who we need here? we need somebody who we can fire. that's who we need here. who makes thisditi decision? who made that decision? >> decision s on conduct and discipline are taken by officials who are usually the employee's supervisor or their division director and a final decision is made usually by a deputy administrator. >> who do they answer to? >> a regional administrator. >> i think you said the magic words, career appointee. i think that was probably the answer to the question. career appointee.
let me ask you, mr. meiburg. i have been sitting here listening, and it seems that with all due respect, sir, it seems you're as a matter of fact, that's right, that's the way it's supposed to be. in the report, in the november 2015 report, mr. sullivan, did you not indicate that epa needed to change some of their policies and protocols? >> yes, to be correct, that was an audit report, but yes, recommendations were made. >> have you done that? >> yes, indeed, we have. >> are they ready? >> they're being implemented. >> they're being imen implement. when? >> now. >> they're in place now? >> on the policies to be specific, the policy on administrative leave to limit administrative leave in any case to ten days unless there's approval by the assistant administrator for the office of administration and resources management under very, very -- >> okay, okay. i'm okay with that because this is the only time something like this happened. it only happened once and then we corrected it. is that right? >> no, there was massive abuse
with administrative leave prior to the changing of the rules. our audit report pointed that out. >> mr. meiburg, have you ever worked in the private sector? >> not for many years. i thought i was going to have that opportunity following may 2014, but it didn't work out that way. >> i suspect there's a story there. seriously, do you think they would tolerate this in the private sector? >> the private sector, i can't speak to the private sector. >> i can, because i'm in the private sector. or i was. i guess i'm not now. but i was. but you know, i mean, this is -- my colleague just made the point, you go and you find people. well, we got the answer today as to why they're being fined, because we have to pay people on administrative leave. who have been charged with felonies. that's why you're getting that fine for the ladder being in the wrong place. i got the answers i needed today. thank you both. that's exactly what i needed to know. mr. chairman, i yield. >> i thank the gentleman from
georgia. i recognize ms. lawrence from michigan for her five minutes. >> thank you. we've heard discussion today about the new process for information sharing at epa and the dramatic improvement in management's response to misconduct. i want to applaud the agency and ig for your work to streamline the disciplinary process. our hearing on the federal workforce often focus on especially in this committee on the negatives. so it's good to hear about the positive changes that are occurring. many of the failures that we have been hearing about were prior to the changes, so i do applaud you. i want to focus on another policy change that took place in the epa regarding administrative leave. i also want to note that this is the sixth hearing that this
committee has held over the past two congresses on the management of employee misconduct issues at epa. mr. meiburg, am i saying that right? >> meiburg. >> meiburg. i'm pleased to hear the new policy increases oversight over the placement of employees on administrative leave during misconduct investigations and adjudications. the new epa policy also requires managers to document alternatives to administrative leave that were considered and why they were deemed not feasible. is that correct? >> yes, that's correct, congresswoman. >> so would you tell me today and enlight en us, what alternatives should you consider before placing an employee on
administrative leave. >> alternatives about what other kind of work the individual could be doing instead of their regular duties if it turns out that the investigation will impede their abilities to conduct their regular duties. so that would be the first place you would look. to find work that they can do while the proceeding is occurring. >> do you expect this new policy to reduce the amount of time that employees are placed on administrative leave? is that the goal? >> yes, indeed t is. we have been very sensitive to the comments from the members of this committee about concern about the abuse of administrative leave, and we want to curtail that practice. >> okay. so now, this policy has been in place since february, am i correct? >> that's correct. >> so have you seen any difference? has there been a reduction? >> we have seen a pretty dramatic difference. since the polauolicy has been pn place, we only had two requests put forward. the fact that requests are not
coming forward is a good sign that the policy is in place. of the two requests, one was approved because of a risk to the safety of employees and the other was denied. >> i often like to interject into these conversations that i served in a federal agency and was in hr, labor relations and really had the responsibility of looking at how do you deal with separating inappropriate behavior but respecting the rights of an employee. it's a delicate mix. you have to hold employees accountable, and i can tell you, sitting here today, i want employees held accountable. it's our expectation of our public. but every employee is a citizen of these united states. they have rights, and the agencies should have, and i'm here, i'm glad to hear that you reviewed these processes to make sure that they're consistent, that they're not, you know, up
to a manager, and that we hold people accountable, basically we're there to do the work, to do the work that my tax dollars and every other american expects to happen in this agency. so i will continue, i hope we don't have to have six more hearings on this, but i will continue to stay focused in looking at what we're doing and mr. meiburg, i expect for you to continue to monitor this and be proactive and make sure that epa with all the budget cuts that we're doing here, that epa is doing the work that we need them to do to protect our environment. thank you so much. >> thank you. >> i thank the gentle lady from michigan. i recognize the gentleman from alabama, mr. palmer. >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. meiburg, i think we've pretty well covered some of the problems that the epa regarding sexual misconduct, but there are other forms of employee
misconduct that i want to address, specifically about an investigation that's going on in the birmingham, alabama, area involving the epa, which epa employees i think have acted improperly in conducting the investigation. specifically, seeking access to property without getting the permission of the owner and actually intimidating people who are occupying houses on the property. i have an affidavit here which one of these people who reside on the property made these allegations, that officials of the u.s. environmental protection agency, epa, approached me, seeked permission to test the property. the epa officials presented me with a document to sign to allow them to sample the yard.
epa representative was acting very intimidating and informed me i needed to sign the release, even though i did not own the property, which is a clear violation. i felt very intimidated and compelled to sign the release, even though i did not want to do so. upon signing the release, i asked the epa official what was so urgent in trying to obtain access to my yard. the epa officials responded that they are in tarant, alabama, which is right there, a suburb of birmingham, to shut down the abc coke plant. does the epa discipline employees who act in such an overzealous manner? >> congressman, any time we have an allegation of misconduct, we investigate it. and if the investigation shows that misconduct has occurred, then we will take action to hold the employee accountable. >> so do you punish that or do you encourage it? >> again, congressman, when an