Senate Re-Considering Mothballed Nomination to Powerful Post
- January 3, 2024
PPT ethics complaint reportedly contributed to bipartisan opposition
The United States Senate appears on the cusp of resuscitating a controversial nomination to a very powerful post at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The nomination of Joseph Goffman to head the Office of Air and Radiation (OAR) at EPA has languished for more than two years, with media reports indicating that ethics issues brought to light by PPT have played a role in the stalled confirmation.
Mr. Goffman served in OAR during the Obama years and has been described as “one of the chief architects” of the ill-fated Clean Power Plan, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in its 2022 West Virginia v. EPA decision. In the interim between the Obama and Biden Administrations he worked at Harvard. His nomination to Assistant Administrator of OAR, originally submitted on March 8, 2022, met with bipartisan opposition in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), despite a Democratic majority. President Biden was forced to resubmit his nomination in January 2023 and he again was unable to advance past EPW.
Inconveniently for Mr. Goffman, committee members found evidence of a “potential” ethics violation during his current tenure at EPA. Media reports indicate that Goffman was evasive answering committee questions about the violation. Goffman “answered obliquely, neither confirming nor disputing the senator’s assertion.” The EPA hasn’t spoken out, and “Regarding what Goffman’s ‘potential lapse’ was, no one is saying,” according to these reports.
PPT, however, knows what the violation was. In 2021, the watchdog filed an ethics complaint to the EPA after Mr. Goffman seemed to engage in an improper contact with his former employer, appearing to exert his influence to arrange a high-level meeting with agency personnel and former colleagues at Harvard. Ethics agreements forbid federal government employees from participating in certain matters involving their former employer(s). Two short weeks after signing his ethics agreement, Mr. Goffman, by his own admission, improperly responded to an email from Harvard by urging his subordinates to take a meeting instead of immediately recusing himself from the matter.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. Documents obtained by PPT via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests reveal extensive communications between Harvard officials, students, and faculty and Mr. Goffman. EPA records further reveal that five individuals with ties to Harvard who directly contacted Mr. Goffman were subsequently hired at EPA, sometimes within his office. Interestingly, when he joined the Biden administration in 2021, Mr. Goffman, was obliged to sell likely hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock in companies involved in oil, coal, and other fossil fuels.
Goffman’s apparent ethical lapses also placed career EPA ethics officials in uncomfortable situations. FOIA records reveal the ethics office seeming to work to minimize the severity of incidents and handling Goffman with kid gloves, deeming his 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 PPT’s first complaint, one that Mr. Goffman admitted, “my recusal bars me from.” Unfortunately such actions seem to have become far too common at an EPA that has become synonymous with the ‘revolving door’ between government and private sector entities involved with the government.
“The Biden Administration came into office vowing to be the most ethical in history, but that high bar seems to be far too difficult for its EPA to clear,” PPT Director Michael Chamberlain stated. “This is certainly not helped when some of its most powerful officials take a lax attitude and ethics officials give them the kid glove treatment. It looks like simply one more reason the American public’s trust in government has virtually evaporated.”