EPA Official’s Contacts with Former Employer Prompt Another Call for Investigation
- August 24, 2022
Joe Goffman’s admitted violation of recusal statement may not have been his only ethical lapse
Today, watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust filed a request for the Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency to investigate a possible ethics violation by current Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) Joseph Goffman. Mr. Goffman, currently awaiting Senate confirmation to be Assistant Administrator of OAR, was the subject of an IG complaint by PPT last year regarding an admitted violation of his recusal statement.
Documents received by PPT from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request reveal that incident may not have been the only one in which Mr. Goffman possibly ran afoul of his ethics obligations involving Harvard University, his former employer. In the earlier case that generated PPT’s complaint, Mr. Goffman took an action that, by his own admission, “my recusal bars me from” – recommending to a subordinate that they take a meeting with Harvard. After more than seven years in the Obama Administration, he was the Executive Director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School prior to joining the Biden Administrations. The lead ethics official at EPA chastised Mr. Goffman for his behavior and provided some remedial instruction about the steps he should have taken. PPT recently filed a FOIA lawsuit to obtain additional documents related to this incident.
The most recent FOIA documents uncover several instances, both prior to and after the incident that spurred PPT’s complaint, in which Mr. Goffman had conversations with former colleagues and others at Harvard. In one instance, a Harvard professor with whom Mr. Goffman had worked on climate issues in the Obama Administration and whose subsequent tenures at Harvard overlapped, reached out to Mr. Goffman asking for a “favor.” Mr. Goffman responded to the request for by directing the Harvard professor to career EPA officials (cc’d on his reply) “as the people to connect with on this.” The unmistakable implication of this communication was that they were expected to assist the professor and student at Mr. Goffman’s former employer in gaining access to information at EPA.
In another exchange, Mr. Goffman also pledged to “inquire with colleagues” at EPA about a request from a Harvard professor to “answer any questions or brief EPA officials” regarding issues discussed in a letter the professor had submitted to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The Harvard professor involved in this email is the same person whose outreach to Mr. Goffman began the chain of events that spurred PPT’s earlier complaint.
“It’s disappointing that someone with such extensive experience working for an agency, and with a legal background to boot, appears to exhibit such a lax attitude toward his ethics obligations, despite the best efforts of career ethics officials to keep everyone on track,” stated Protect the Public’s Trust Director, Michael Chamberlain. “If you’re looking for an advantage over competitors by obtaining information about how an agency operates or have the ability to gain an audience of agency officials to promote your policy ideas, working at Joe Goffman’s former employer and having his email address sure seems to help. This is hardly behavior befitting a member of the leadership of an administration touting itself as the most ethical in history.”
The American public deserves answers to the following questions:
- Whether Mr. Goffman violated the Biden Ethics Pledge when he performed a “favor” for his former colleague and employer by specifically identifying two of his subordinates as contacts for internal EPA information.
- Whether Mr. Goffman violated any other ethics regulations when he performed a “favor” for his former colleague and employer by specifically identifying two of his subordinates as contacts for internal EPA information.
- Whether Mr. Goffman violated the Biden Ethics Pledge when he accepted his former colleague’s request and agreed to inquire of his EPA associates as to whether they would benefit from a briefing from his former colleague.
- Whether Mr. Goffman violated any other ethics regulations when he accepted his former colleague’s request and agreed to inquire of his EPA associates as to whether they would benefit from a briefing from his former colleague.
- Whether Mr. Goffman sought and received a written impartiality determination from an ethics officer in advance of any of the contacts with his former colleagues and employer discussed herein.
- If Mr. Goffman did not receive a written impartiality determination in advance of his contacts with his former colleagues and employer, whether those contacts led to any disciplinary action.
- Whether the totality of the circumstances demonstrated by roughly 45 pages of documents produced to Protect the Public’s Trust revealing Mr. Goffman’s repeated contacts with his former employer – – apparently without having first obtained an impartiality determination – – establish a loss of impartiality and/or bias in violation of the Biden Ethics Pledge or other ethics regulations.
- Whether or not Mr. Goffman has since had contacts with his former employer, participated in any particular matters involving his former employer, or has committed another violation or attempted to violate his ethics obligations.
- Since it appears Mr. Goffman may have had multiple encounters with his former employer that could have run afoul of his ethics obligations, whether there were other instances in which Mr. Goffman may have violated those obligations, including through inappropriate contacts with his former employer or others with which he had a covered relationship.