EPA Ethics Personnel Bent Over Backward to Minimize Senior Climate Official’s Alleged Misconduct
- June 19, 2023
PPT complaint generated investigation into Joseph Goffman’s apparent ethics violation
Today, government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced new details concerning its calls for investigation into Joseph Goffman’s longstanding relationship with his former employer, Harvard University. Records obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reveal the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) did initiate a review of Mr. Goffman’s apparent ethics violation based upon PPT’s complaint, despite efforts to downplay the violation by the career director of the agency ethics office. Another Biden appointee at EPA subsequently appears to have inserted herself into the ethics office response to PPT’s complaint. The effort to shape the probe behind the scenes raises concerns about whether the appointee interfered with or introduced undue influence.
In 2021, PPT filed an ethics complaint to the EPA after Mr. Goffman appeared to improperly exert his influence to arrange a high-level meeting with agency personnel on behalf of Harvard University. Ethics agreements forbid federal government employees from participating in matters involving specific parties that are directly and/or substantially related to a former employer. Two short weeks after signing his ethics agreement, Mr. Goffman improperly responded to emails from his former employer urging his subordinates to take a meeting instead of immediately recusing himself from the matter.
This, however, is the tip of the iceberg of Joseph Goffman’s interactions with Harvard during his time at the EPA. Documents obtained through PPT FOIA requests reveal more than 130 pages of communications between Harvard and Mr. Goffman. EPA records further disclose that individuals with connections to Harvard appear to have received special treatment when seeking positions at EPA. In all, PPT has uncovered evidence that five individuals with ties to Harvard who contacted Mr. Goffman directly were subsequently hired at EPA, sometimes within his office.
Despite Mr. Goffman’s flagrant disregard for appointees’ long-standing practice of not engaging with former employers, the extensive record of his regular inappropriate communications was evidently of little concern to the career director of the agency’s ethics office, Justina Fugh. FOIA records reveal the EPA Ethics Office working to minimize the severity of the situation in correspondence to the OIG. Ultimately, the ethics office handled Goffman with kid gloves, deeming his repeated contact with his former employer a “minor pledge violation,” and nothing more than an “oops [that] occurred.” This was after the ethics office helped to “unring the bell” of the action at the heart of the complaint, one that Mr. Goffman admitted, “my recusal bars me from.” Though Mr. Goffman did self-report the incident to ethics officials, it was only after being alerted by his chief of staff, even though he had recently received ethics training on precisely this type of situation and had more than seven years of prior experience working at EPA. In addition, a senior political appointee in the Office of General Counsel was looped into conversations about the probe and requested a private call with the Designated Agency Ethics Official.
“The American people deserve ethical, objective, and impartial government actors who are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of public office,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, declared. “While an IG review of Mr. Goffman’s actions appears to have taken place, the newly released records demonstrate an odd level of protection granted to him by a top ethics official at the agency in the face of a clear violation and pattern of inappropriate communications. Transparency does matter though, with these records only strengthening PPT’s dedication to ensuring there is just one standard – one set of rules that our public servants live by no matter what party affiliation or ideological bent.”