Truth to tell, The Scrapbook has gotten as good a laugh as anyone out of the saga of John C. Beale, the retired Environmental Protection Agency official—Princeton grad, onetime deputy assistant administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation, congressionally certified expert on global warming—who has been sentenced to 32 months in prison for stealing nearly a million dollars from the federal government.
As often happens, Mr. Beale began his life of crime on a modest scale: padding expense accounts, arranging first-class travel for himself (at EPA expense), and taking off one day a week—allegedly on government business—to relax at home. But one day became two, and then Mr. Beale would be gone for weeks and months at a time. Indeed, between 2000 and June 2008, his desk at the EPA (annual salary and benefits: $206,000) seems to have been unoccupied for a total of two-and-a-half years.
The best part, however, is the reason Mr. Beale gave the EPA for his frequent absences: He was on special assignment for the CIA, he would explain, sometimes at the fabled Directorate of Operations in Langley, sometimes on interagency task forces in Washington—and sometimes in the mountains of Pakistan, fighting the Taliban. Mr. Beale was not just a committed environmentalist and authoritative voice on global warming; he was every schoolboy’s dream Secret Agent as well.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t. Mr. Beale was never in Pakistan, never consulted by anyone on anything to do with intelligence or terrorism, and never set foot inside CIA headquarters in Langley. The closest he might have come to dealing with the Taliban was seeing them on his television set at his residence, at taxpayers’ expense.
“With the help of his therapist,” Mr. Beale’s lawyer explained to the court, “[he] has come to recognize that, beyond the motive of greed, his theft and deception were animated by a highly self-destructive and dysfunctional need to engage in excessively reckless, risky behavior.” Which, from The Scrapbook’s perspective, seems all too obvious.
What strikes us as equally dysfunctional, however, and probably more destructive, is the casual atmosphere over at the Environmental Protection Agency, which, in the words of its (we hope embarrassed) inspector general, suffers from “an absence of even basic internal controls.”
Look at it this way: Suppose you told your boss that you hadn’t shown up for work on Monday and Tuesday because you were on special assignment with the CIA—which, of course, you were not at liberty to describe in detail. In the real world, this would be greeted with either (a) hearty laughter or (b) instant dismissal. But John Beale seems not only to have pulled it off, but to have pulled it off repeatedly, brazenly, obsessively, and profitably, for nearly a decade before anyone asked the most rudimentary questions.
So The Scrapbook wonders: If pretending to be an international man of mystery works for grifters at the EPA, how many more must there be fighting the Taliban at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, or the Department of Housing and Urban Development?