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By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, CNN
(CNN) - Contractors at an Environmental Protection Agency warehouse were careless with inventories, and used government furniture and appliances to create hidden “man caves” complete with couches and TVs, an agency watchdog alleges.
Out of sight of the security cameras, and often hidden behind screens or boxes, employees created rec-rooms with furniture and appliances from government storage, according to an audit, feathering their nests with televisions, DVDs, refrigerators, microwaves, and couches.
Perhaps the most elaborate part of the setup was an extensive gym, with weights and equipment to rival a fitness center. Using floor tiles from storage, they carpeted the area, and they used notebooks from storage to record their workouts, according to the EPA inspector general’s report.
The EPA was paying contractor Apex Logistics $1.6 million per year to handle the warehouse, located just outside Washington in Landover, Maryland.
“They set up a gym, they set up all these things with our money," said Ryan Alexander, with spending watchdog Taxpayers for Common Sense. “So we're paying a contractor, so their guys can sit around and watch tv and work out?”
The report also alleges that valuable inventory was going unused. Large amounts of equipment were idle – not just surplus furniture, but new and unopened air conditioners and refrigerators that sat untouched for the past five years.
Photos also show several upright pianos lying on their backs collecting dust.
"Why are we paying people to store things we don't need? It's just waste upon waste upon waste," said Alexander. "We have old computers that have never been opened. We have lots of stuff that we're just not using."
The auditors also reported finding dirty or unsafe conditions – from furniture piled in the aisles, to unsafe electrical wiring, to dust and rat feces throughout the building.
"It seemed that every aisle you walked down – it was a cumulative effect," EPA auditor Robert Adachi told CNN. "There was inefficiency, there was waste, there was potential abuse."
Perhaps most puzzling of all was a box containing expired passports of EPA employees – including diplomatic passports.
"This was just a breach of security," said Adachi, who pointed out that they could be sold on the black market if they fell into the wrong hands. "There were also other sensitive documents that contained personal identifiable information," he said.
The EPA says it takes the report seriously, and is taking corrective steps.
"We took immediate action to secure the warehouse and its contents, and issued a stop work order to the contractor," said EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson.
An inventory has almost been completed, she said, adding that "all personally identifiable information has been secured and will be stored or disposed of properly."
Adachi said much of the blame goes to the contractor, whom CNN was not able to reach. But still, he said, while the EPA responded quickly once it was alerted to the situation, the agency was still at fault for what he called "a pure lack of oversight" over the years.
Johnson said the EPA believes this was an isolated case, after reviewing all other storage and warehouses and finding them appropriately managed. She said the agency will implement additional safeguards for their oversight and management.Follow @BrianTodCNN
(CNN) – In an adventure worthy of the TV show "Survivor," Sen. Jeff Flake and two of his sons marooned themselves on a deserted island in the Pacific last week during the Senate's week off.
Dodging sharks and suffering sunburns, the senator and his two teenage boys spent four days fending for themselves – spearing fish, catching crabs, picking up coconuts and sleeping outdoors in hammocks. They cooked what they caught, over a campfire kindled with a magnifying glass.FULL STORY
by Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd
Watch "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" Tuesday at 5pm on CNN for more of Brian Todd's interview with space jumper Felix Baumgartner.
(CNN) - He has been dubbed "Fearless Felix," but the Austrian skydiver who broke the sound barrier last week was almost derailed by a fear he had never before encountered: claustrophobia.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Situation Room's Brian Todd, Felix Baumgartner said that as he did longer and longer test runs, wearing his restrictive skydiving suit, his anxieties got worse and worse.
Roswell, New Mexico (CNN) – Skydiver Felix Baumgartner is aiming to pull off a record-breaking free-fall jump from the edge of space Tuesday, wearing nothing but a space suit, a helmet and a parachute.
His goal is not only to jump from a higher altitude than anyone ever has - 120,000 feet, more than three times the cruising altitude of the average airliner. He also hopes to be the first person to break the sound barrier, without the aid of anything besides the space suit. At that altitude, the thin air provides so little resistance that after just 40 seconds, he is expected to be free-falling faster than 690 miles an hour.
Washington (CNN) - Mitt Romney's latest campaign nightmare started four months ago. Hard as it is to believe, sometimes the stormiest campaign controversies take a while to make their way into the maelstrom.
On May 17th, at a fund-raiser in Boca Raton, Florida attended by donors who paid $50,000 a plate, Romney was asked how he's going to convince voters that they need to take care of themselves – instead of relying on the government. In one of those unvarnished moments, which high-rolling donors pay a lot of money to witness, Romney said nearly half the American electorate will vote for President Obama, no matter what. But he didn't stop there, and Mitt Romney may wish he had the next few seconds back.
Washington (CNN) – You have to brace yourself watching them. One video shot from the dashboard of a bus shows a pedestrian being hit full-force and dropping. Another video shows a woman crossing in front of a bus and nearly getting plowed over.
Others show buses running red lights, turning into oncoming traffic and hitting cars. In each case, the bus is driven by an accredited, trained city bus driver in the nation's capital.
The newly released videos show events that occurred last August and September. They include dozens of collisions, 134 near-collisions and a number of traffic violations.
By CNN’s Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd
(CNN) - So what are Tuesday's Iowa caucus-goers like – and how do they compare to the rest of the U.S. population?
Here's a thumbnail profile, by the numbers.
For starters, they are not a big group. In 2008, about 119,000 people voted in Iowa's Republican caucuses - which is about the same as the population of Allentown, PA.
By Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd
The militant group Hezbollah claims it has blown the cover of 10 alleged CIA officers working in Lebanon.
In the latest round of an escalating spy war, Hezbollah's media arm, al Manar, posted a video Friday accusing the CIA of running espionage operations from the diplomatic cover of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. It discloses the alleged names of the current CIA station chief (including his birthdate), the former station chief, and three other officers, as well as code names for five others.
(CNN) – Extensive audio recordings from September 11, 2001, capture a raw, vivid, moment-by-moment account of the terrorist attacks, directly from those who were in the middle of the crisis.
In excerpts posted online - some of which were declassified only within the past year - listeners can hear everything from the wrenching words of a flight attendant on a hijacked airliner and the haunting voices of two of the terrorists in the cockpits, to the cross talk of air controllers and military officials as they come to realize the extent of the attacks.
Washington (CNN) - The claim is ubiquitous on Fox News Channel: we're "fair and balanced". To many observers, that's a way of saying Fox is a conservative foil to what some believe is the liberal-leaning mainstream news media. Was there a blueprint for Fox News Channel in the early days of the Nixon administration?
A fascinating document from the early-1970s, obtained by CNN from the Nixon Presidential Library, is entitled "A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News." The memo openly says it's an idea to avoid "the censorship, the priorities and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators." The stated goal: "To provide pro-Administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States."FULL STORY