Posted: 1:56 pm Thursday, April 30th, 2015
By Jamie Dupree
A pair of senior officials from the Environmental Protection Agency were raked over the coals by a House committee Thursday, as lawmakers demanded to know why a high level employee had been elevated to a new job inside the agency, even after being accused of sexual harassment by numerous female co-workers.
“We’re talking about seventeen women who were harassed, and there doesn’t seem to be a flashing red light that goes off in somebody’s office,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).
“I’m just astounded,” said an almost speechless Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
“It appears that if you sexually harass someone you might just get a promotion,” Maloney told EPA officials.
It was yet another hearing in the Congress centering on misconduct by federal employees, as lawmakers expressed familiar frustration about a very slow response by major agencies to possible wrongdoing.
“What I’ve heard over these last few months about the EPA is absolutely the worst I’ve heard of any department or agency in the entire federal government,” said Rep. John Duncan (R-TN).
Most of the focus was on Peter Jutro, a former Acting Associate Administrator for the EPA Office of Homeland Security; evidence suggested that high level officials knew of multiple accusations of sexual harassment against Jutro, but did not ask about them as Jutro was considered for a top EPA post.
“You failed,” Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) said bluntly at one point.
“I honestly believe I did the best I could with the information I had,” replied EPA Deputy Chief of Staff John Reeder, who admitted he never asked the boss of Jutro for any information about his work.
“Mr. Reeder, I would suggest that you are probably the only person to believe that you did as much as you should have done,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC).
Investigators described several instances where Jutro supposedly harassed women from the EPA, like one where he was at a restaurant with a female colleague, who said she needed to leave to catch a train.
“And he perked up and said, ‘Train? I’ve never had one of those,'” said Assistant Inspector General Patrick Sullivan.
“She knew exactly what he meant,” Sullivan added.
“Oh, I think most of us know what he meant,” said Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who noted multiple examples where Jutro had been said to engage in ‘unwanted hugging and kissing’ and ‘inappropriate hugging and kissing’ of EPA female employees.
Internal EPA investigators only became aware of the scope of the problems, after Jutro was accused of “inappropriate behavior of a sexual nature towards a female Smithsonian intern during the summer of 2014.”
Jutro was placed on administrative leave during an investigation, but then officially retired before investigators had a chance to ask him questions.