Senior EPA Official’s Conduct Draws Third Ethics Complaint

Senior EPA Official’s Conduct Draws Third Ethics Complaint

  • March 15, 2023
Documents show Joseph Goffman has continued to potentially violate his ethics obligations in multiple ways over more than two years in leadership

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) announced it has filed yet another complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ethics office regarding Principal Deputy Administrator Joseph Goffman’s ongoing actions that potentially violate his federal ethics obligations. In years past, actions comparable to those of Mr. Goffman could easily have resulted in an abrupt investigation and possible termination.

Upon entering office immediately after the inauguration, Mr. Goffman received ethics training and signed his Ethics Pledge, acknowledging his obligation, among other things, to avoid taking action on particular matters where he had a personal financial interest. At the time of his appointment, Mr. Goffman had more than 80 financial holdings that required him to recuse himself from specific matters involving those interests or obtain a written waiver. Yet, despite his expressed intent to “move expeditiously to divest several holdings that create potential conflicts,” he waited months before divesting of many of these holdings while he engaged in actions affecting business across large swaths of the economy. In fact, it remains unclear when he divested forty of his interests. The sheer number of financial holdings requiring his recusal, when combined with the scope of his work, is fraught with potential conflicts of interest. His apparent indifference toward resolving these extensive financial conflicts of interest is striking.

Additionally, Mr. Goffman has continued to involve himself with his former employer, Harvard University. PPT’s original complaint involved an admitted violation by Mr. Goffman regarding a meeting request from a former Harvard colleague. As we suspected at the time, his reporting of the misconduct to ethics officials was not proactive on his part but was a response to his chief of staff alerting him to the violation. PPT’s second complaint also involved Mr. Goffman’s contacts with former colleagues and others at Harvard.

Joseph Goffman’s ties to Harvard run deep. Documents obtained through PPT FOIA requests reveal more than 130 pages of communications between Harvard and Mr. Goffman. EPA records further reveal 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. Indeed, PPT has not been provided evidence of any instance in which an individual connected to Harvard contacted Mr. Goffman for a job and was not hired.

Newly produced documents also disclose another relationship where a Harvard associate met with Mr. Goffman and also signed off on two letters to Mr. Goffman seeking to steer millions of dollars of EPA funding toward standing up an anti-noise program in the office led by Mr. Goffman It so happens that the colleague also worked with an organization called “Quiet Communities,” which was in a good position to work with EPA to advance the very same program. One of the letters written to Mr. Goffman, signed by his former Harvard colleague, also asks whether Mr. Goffman would arrange a meeting with another high-ranking EPA official “so we can make a pitch for including money in his budget…”

It seems unlikely that a political appointee with more than seven years of experience would be unaware of, or confused about, his ethics obligations, particularly with respect to avoiding contacts with his former employer. Mr. Goffman’s activities continue to raise serious questions about whether he has the integrity to hold public office. Yet, the EPA’s Ethics Office has yet to take decisive action. Accordingly, PPT has been compelled to file a third complaint over the actions of Mr. Goffman.

“Public service is a public trust,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “This is the promise individuals make when they accept positions of authority within the federal government. Historically, the standard has been even higher for political appointees, who are charged with setting the policies affecting Americans’ lives and seek to assure the American public that they have an unwavering commitment to an ethical, objective, and impartial government. While the Biden Administration talks a good game about being the most ethical in history, our pending complaints at EPA raise serious questions about whether that commitment is little more than lip service.”