The EPA needs to explain what the "emergency" in Seattle is

Have you heard of any sort of emergency going on in the greater Seattle, Washington area which has stretched on for more than two years? Was there another volcanic eruption that I somehow missed? Perhaps it was a tsunami. Whatever it was it must have been serious, at least in the eyes of the Environmental Protection Agency. It turns out that they’ve been paying almost three quarters of their workers in that region more than is allowed by law, compensating them with rates which are only available while doing “emergency or mission-critical” work. And in nearly all of these cases they failed to put in the appropriate requests to have the excessive pay approved. (Government Executive)

The Environmental Protection Agency is paying employees above their legal salary caps without the required justification, according to a new report.

Nearly 75 percent of EPA employees at the agency’s region 10 based in Seattle, Wash., who were paid above the statutory biweekly cap in fiscal year 2015 through Jan. 7, 2017, did not request the necessary waiver to do so, the agency’s inspector general found. In the 15 cases in which employees did seek the waiver, only one received the requisite approval from the region’s human resources office. The regional administrator signed off on the premium pay in those 15 cases, but in only four of them did the waivers provide appropriate justification for the special pay rate.

We’re talking about primarily General Schedule (or “GS”) employees here, though some executives are involved as well. By law, organizations are barred from paying workers in excess of the established maximums unless just cause can be demonstrated during emergency conditions, and even then the irregular payments require justification and approval. If the EPA is responding to an actual crisis, such as the ones they caused themselves at the Gold King Mine or the Flint, Michigan unsafe drinking water disaster, employees may have to burn the midnight oil for extended periods and work under harsh or even dangerous conditions. (As an aside, in case you missed it, the EPA Inspector General amazingly cleared the agency of any wrongdoing in the Gold King Mine spill back in June. Simply unbelievable.) Some extra pay in cases such as those are understandable.

But, as I asked above, what’s the emergency in Seattle? To be sure, the region has plenty of problems, many of their own making. But they deal with things like a skyrocketing minimum wage and long-term budget shortfalls. None of these are areas where the EPA would be involved. What that in mind, it doesn’t sound as if the agency’s workers would merit non-stop emergency pay for years on end.

I realize Scott Pruitt has a lot on his plate at the moment, but perhaps he could delegate someone to look into this. We’re talking about your tax dollars after all, and the Trump administration has been in the business of cutting costs, not inflating them.