The Work-Shirking Secrets of the World’s Laziest Government Employee

A blog about murder, theft, and other wickedness.
Dec. 16 2013 4:00 PM

The Work-Shirking Secrets of the World’s Laziest Government Employee

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Perhaps John C. Beale took this sign outside the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., to mean "Stop working."

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The “American dream” is a nebulous concept. Some say that the phrase refers to the idea that, in America, anyone who works hard can find great success. I, however, maintain that the real American dream is to find great success while doing as little work as possible. By that definition, I’d say that John C. Beale is one of the greatest heroes in American history.

Michael Isikoff of NBC News brings us the absolutely bizarre story of Beale, a workplace fabulist for the ages, who, on Wednesday, will be sentenced for defrauding his employer out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in the most ridiculous manner imaginable. Beale was the highest-paid employee at the Environmental Protection Agency, a climate expert who had worked as a senior policy advisor on global warming and carbon emissions issues for decades. But as Isikoff reports, he was also apparently a very, very lazy man who would do anything to avoid doing his job.

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Beale would disappear from the office for months at a time, drawing his full paycheck while doing no work whatsoever. He covered his tracks with the mother of all phony excuses:

To explain his long absences, Beale told agency officials—including McCarthy—that he was engaged in intelligence work for the CIA, either at agency headquarters or in Pakistan. At one point he claimed to be urgently needed in Pakistan because the Taliban was torturing his CIA replacement, according to Sullivan.
“Due to recent events that you have probably read about, I am in Pakistan,” he wrote McCarthy in a Dec. 18, 2010 email. “Got the call Thurs and left Fri. Hope to be back for Christmas ….Ho, ho, ho.”

But Beale wasn’t actually a CIA operative. He had never even been to Langley. Instead, NBC reports that Beale “spent much of the time he was purportedly working for the CIA at his Northern Virginia home riding bikes, doing housework and reading books, or at a vacation house on Cape Cod.” (Oddly, this sounds very similar to the plot of the next James Bond movie, The Spy Who Loved Clam Chowder.)

Beale’s story eventually fell apart. He pleaded guilty to theft of government property in September and will be sentenced on Wednesday; prosecutors want Beale to serve at least 30 months in prison. And yet I can’t help but be impressed by his chutzpah. I’d bet that all of us, at one point or another, have told a lie in order to get a day off from work. But we usually try to keep those stories within the boundaries of plausibility—“I am very sick today,” for instance. Beale, however, went in the opposite direction and offered the most ridiculous excuse possible. And yet people believed it, for years! In my opinion, the real fault here lies not with Beale, but with his superiors, who failed to realize that real CIA operatives don’t boast about their missions in casual intra-office emails.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at justintrevett@fastmail.fm.