EPA Adds to Disturbing Trend of Ethics Obligations Taking a Back Seat

EPA Adds to Disturbing Trend of Ethics Obligations Taking a Back Seat

  • March 10, 2022

Policy appears to trump ethics at yet another federal agency

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust expressed concern regarding incidents at the Environmental Protection Agency that raise questions about agency leadership’s commitment to ethics obligations. In the wake of a response by a Department of Energy spokesperson indicating that a focus on climate policy took precedence over ethics and legal commitments, these incidents point to the possibility this philosophy may have taken hold at EPA.

The most recent incident is the attempted elevation of Joseph Goffman, despite admitting a potential ethics violation in his current role. In August PPT filed a complaint with the EPA Inspector General regarding the violation by Goffman that came to light via documents PPT received in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Goffman signed a recusal statement last April that barred him from participating in his official duties in any meetings or other communications that involved Harvard University, his former employer. Less than two weeks later, Goffman engaged with an employee of Harvard in a way that, by his own admission, “my recusal bars me from.” His actions forced EPA ethics officials to have to scramble to “unring the bell” after a colleague alerted them to the violation. Yesterday, the White House announced it was nominating Goffman for the post of Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation, which requires Senate confirmation. PPT recently filed a FOIA request for additional records that could shed light on this incident and any responses by the agency.

In addition to the apparent violation by Goffman, EPA leadership permitted Dr. Christopher Frey, who serves in the Office of Research and Development, to maintain his employment relationship with a university that is an instrumentality of the Chinese government while working at EPA. Frey has pledged to sever his relationship with the Chinese entity, but only upon his confirmation by the Senate as Assistant Administrator for Research and Development. Earlier, EPA leadership had staffed so many officials with potential conflicts of interest in one office that agency ethics officials, faced with an “overlap of recusals,” were forced to grant a waiver to one official in order for the office to function.

“Protect the Public’s Trust has begun to notice a disturbing trend – that executive branch agencies are prioritizing policy considerations and forcing ethics and legal obligations to take a back seat,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “While the Biden Administration has promised to be the most ethical in history, too many agencies don’t appear to have gotten the message. It’s hardly surprising then, that the American public’s trust in its government, already at all-time lows, continues to decline.”