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Monday, March 27, 2017
Insiders rip federal power agency over theft, threats
The receipts just didn’t make sense: Employees at a federal power agency in Phoenix were using U.S. government purchase cards to buy millions of dollars’ worth of items from sporting good stores like Bass Pro Shop or Cabela's, and from specialty auto shops.
Ammunition. Scopes for assault rifles. Engine superchargers. Radar detectors.
The merchandise had nothing to do with electrical grids or transmission lines.
Nate Elam, former assistant regional manager at the Western Area Power Administration office in Phoenix, shakes his head remembering his shock reviewing receipts submitted by his employees in 2014. Then he mentions something even more alarming: Instead of aggressively going after corruption, Elam alleges, WAPA's bosses slow-walked the investigation, retaliated against those who uncovered fraud, and failed to protect them from threats.
“You see stuff everywhere,” said Elam, a 14-year federal employee who once worked for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. "But I’d never seen the corruption — or the lack of wanting to do anything about it — like I did in the Department of Energy.”
Keith Cloud, WAPA's chief of security who worked with Elam to expose credit-card abuse, said the situation was harrowing due to a gun culture within the agency. As some employees began making threats and using intimidation tactics, Cloud said, administrators delayed protective measures and held almost no one accountable“We asked them to look into all of this," Cloud said. "What’s appalling to me is, I cannot protect my staff because they just won’t do anything.”
Finally, after FBI counterterrorism agents began investigating, WAPA's Desert Southwest Office hired armed guards and commissioned a threat assessment.
Mark Gabriel, chief executive officer for the federal agency, says the entire controversy has been overblown, the theft outbreak was limited and reforms are in place. He also noted that two former employees have been criminally charged in connection with purchase-card irregularities.
"Yes, there were criminal activities, unfortunately," Gabriel noted in a recent interview. "We investigated ourselves, and we were able to educate ourselves. I believe it's a piece of history."
Gabriel declined to address why his security chief, assistant regional manager and top procurement officer have jeopardized their careers making contrary allegations. Or why members of Congress are hounding his agency for answers...more