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EPA watchdog: lack of oversight may have led to loss of records at Great Lakes Region
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EPA watchdog: lack of oversight may have led to loss of records at Great Lakes Region

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A lack of internal controls at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes region may have resulted in the loss of records the agency was required to preserve, according to a government watchdog.

The EPA Office of Inspector General found the agency’s Region 5, headed by former members of Gov. Scott Walker’s administration, did not require employee training and waited nearly a year to report the lost electronic files.

According to the OIG report released Monday, an employee of the Region 5 office tried to move files from a hard drive onto the EPA’s new cloud storage system in December 2018, shortly before a 35-day government shutdown.

In March, the employee realized the files were missing, but neither the agency’s information technology contractor nor the cloud storage vendor could recover them. Investigators determined the files were inadvertently put in the recycle bin, which automatically deletes contents after 90 days.

The report does not specify the subject of the records.

According to the report, the employee did not use the agency’s file transfer tool and had not attended training on the cloud file storage system, neither of which were required by Region 5 administration.

The inspector general found the agency does not have a policy requiring officials to investigate and report the suspected loss of records and faulted the region’s records officer for waiting 11 months to notify superiors.

The OIG determined the office needs stronger internal controls to ensure it is preserving records to document agency activities and comply with the Freedom of Information Act and court orders.

Kurt Thiede

Thiede

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‘Not the case’

Region 5 Administrator Kurt Thiede said the OIG did not acknowledge his office’s training efforts, “creating the impression that Region 5 made no effort to preserve files during this technology migration, which is certainly not the case.”

Thiede went on to note that more than 5.7 million files were successfully transferred and there was only one report of lost records.

According to the report, the EPA agreed to six recommendations and has completed three of them. The others are scheduled to be completed in 2021.

6-state sector

EPA Region 5 is responsible for environmental protection and restoration efforts in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as the Great Lakes. Over the past two years it has been under the leadership of two former members of Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.

Cathy Stepp

Stepp

Cathy Stepp, a former homebuilder who served as Walker’s Department of Natural Resources secretary, joined the EPA in 2017 and was later appointed as Region 5 administrator. Thiede was deputy secretary of the DNR before leaving to serve as Stepp’s chief of staff. He was appointed regional administrator in January after Stepp left the EPA.

A 2018 OIG audit initiated at the request of the previous administrator found shortcomings in Region 5 controls over laptop computers and other information technology equipment.

According to the OIG report, the administration made all the recommended changes.

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