May 2, 2023. While “Earth Month” was last month, environmental concerns and fraud never sleep. In the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) November 2022 report on its top challenges for fiscal year 2023, the agency identified “Managing increased investment in infrastructure” as a priority. The Inspector General of the EPA testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology last month, highlighting the historic amounts of funding EPA has received in the last year and some paths forward on how to avoid fraudsters including government contractors and grantees from improperly draining away those funds.
The EPA’s Inspector General (IG) called the new funds flowing through the EPA from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) as “historic.” The EPA’s annual appropriation in fiscal year 2021 was approximately $9 billion, a figure the IG used as a reference to show the enormity of funds appropriated to the Agency under the IIJA and IRA: $100 billion. The EPA anticipates disbursing most of the IIJA funds via grants and loans to nonfederal entities including government contractors. This is how the appropriations break down for the two Acts: $60 billion from the IIJA and $41.5 billion from the IRA. A list of the environmental initiatives in the IIJA can be found here. The IG testified that his office “anticipate[s] that the EPA will award many IIJA and IRA grants and contracts to first-time recipients that are unfamiliar with federal contract and grant requirements,” exposing taxpayer dollars to fraud, waste, and abuse. Whistleblowers can make sure these funds make it to their intended recipients, giving taxpayers good return on their investment and ensuring the programs and projects to remediate and protect the planet carry out their mission.
How many qui tam lawsuits have there been where whistleblowers reported violations of the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act? Not many, but that does not mean the violations aren’t happening. Whistleblowers will be critical with the sheer amount of money going towards new infrastructure initiatives as part of the IIJA.
“Whistleblowers are the fulcrum of good governance and oversight, with prevention on one side and detection on the other,” said the EPA IG. Environmental fraud is a serious issue that wastes taxpayer dollars, diverts government resources, and harms all manner of living beings. This fraud can occur when organizations and individuals apply for contracts or grants and submit false or misleading information about their environmental practices or falsely certify compliance with environmental protection regulations or fail to comply with the terms of the contracts and grants. Whistleblowers play an essential role in exposing environmental grant fraud. With the help of whistleblower laws, employees and competitors can report fraudulent activities and protect the environment while keeping taxpayer funds safe. Whistleblowers can help the government detect and investigate fraudulent practices, hold companies responsible accountable, and ensure the proper use of grant funds.
If you would like to report government contracts or grant fraud, you can contact attorneys at Tycko & Zavareei LLP. Eva Gunasekera and Renée Brooker are former officials of the United States Department of Justice and prosecuted whistleblower cases under the False Claims Act. Renée served as Assistant Director at the United States Department of Justice, the office that supervises False Claims Act cases in all 94 United States District Courts. Eva was the Senior Counsel for Health Care Fraud. Eva and Renée now represent whistleblowers. For a free consultation, you can contact Renée at [email protected] (tel.: 202-417-3664) or contact Eva Gunasekera at [email protected]. You can also go to Tycko & Zavareei LLP’s website for whistleblowers to learn more at https://www.fraudfighters.net/.