Oversight Committee Finds Widespread Ethics Issues at EPA

Jan 17, 2020
Press Release
Committee Seeks Briefing on Ethics Program Compliance

Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Harley Rouda, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releasing new information in the Committee’s investigation into the Trump Administration’s use of ethics waivers to allow political appointees to continue working on matters they worked on before entering government.

“These documents indicate that EPA allowed senior agency officials to avoid or delay completing required ethics forms and that EPA was missing forms entirely for some officials,” wrote Chairwoman Maloney and Chairman Rouda.  “The Committee identified multiple instances in which EPA officials failed to complete required ethics documents or sign ethics pledges required by Executive Order 13770.  EPA also allowed officials to delay the finalization of critical ethics agreements for significant periods of time after joining the agency.”

In one egregious case, EPA allowed William L. Wehrum, the former Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, to work on official business for more than 300 days before finalizing a recusal statement.  Mr. Wehrum had extensive conflicts of interest due to his prior employment as a lobbyist and lawyer for the oil, gas and coal industries.  While serving without a finalized recusal statement, Mr. Wehrum worked on topics that directly impact the oil and gas industry, such as rolling back fuel economy standards.

The Committee also identified the following problems:

  • EPA was unable to provide signed ethics pledges, as required by Executive Order 13770, for at least five political appointees;
  • Eight EPA political appointees failed to sign their ethics pledges in a timely manner, with an average of 49 days elapsing between the time they assumed official positions and when they signed ethics pledges; and
  • EPA failed to prepare recusal statements in a timely manner, with 26 appointees taking more than 20 days to prepare recusal statements and an average of 151 days elapsing between the time appointees assumed official positions and finalizing required recusal statements.

In 2017, the Office of Government Ethics identified multiple lapses in EPA’s compliance with ethics requirements and raised concerns about how EPA administers its ethics program.

In 2019, the Government Accountability Office found that EPA did not periodically review its ethics program to evaluate the quality of financial disclosure reviews and that EPA did not consistently ensure that members appointed to its advisory committees met federal ethics requirements.

“In the absence of a functioning ethics program, EPA cannot reasonably assure that political appointees are making unbiased decisions when carrying out the governmental responsibilities entrusted to them by the American people,” Chairwoman Maloney and Chairman Rouda wrote.  “Executive Branch ethics programs are intended to establish a foundation on which to build and sustain an ethical culture in the executive branch, including among political appointees who constitute top agency management.”


In today’s letter, the chairs requested that EPA provide a staff briefing on compliance with the ethics program by January 30, 2020.  

Click here to read today’s letter.

 

 

116th Congress