EPA pushes back on Oversight review of ethics program

EPA pushes back on Oversight review of ethics program
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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is pushing back against allegations from the House Oversight and Reform Committee that the agency slow-walked its ethics obligations.

In a letter to the agency earlier this month, the House committee argued EPA let political appointees take months to sign required ethics pledges and compile recusal lists, allowing leaders to work on issues where they had substantial conflicts of interest, the panel argued.

But the EPA disputed that Thursday in a letter to the committee, saying many of the employees targeted by the committee for not having ethics recusals were not required to do so under the executive order, given that they were not political appointees and were instead hired under another mechanism used to bring on temporary staff.

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“These allegations display a complete lack of understanding of ethics obligations and what is required under current rules or federal law,” the EPA wrote in their letter.

The EPA also argued that Democrats should have reached out to the agency before issuing their press release.

“In doing so, the Committee failed to ensure the accuracy of its claims and ascertain the details behind common agency practices, which were assumed by the Committee to be inadequate or unethical,” EPA wrote in a letter to Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Business groups throw support behind House Democrat's bill to provide pandemic risk insurance Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns MORE (D-N.Y.) and subcommittee Chairman Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaHuman Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary Battle erupts in California over when to open The rising cost of religious freedom in Vietnam MORE (D-Calif.).

“Career EPA ethics officials did not find a basis for the litany of allegations contained in the January 17, 2020, letter. Moreover, agency staff immediately reached out to committee staff to gain an understanding of any factual information that may support the committee’s allegations identified in its letter,” the agency wrote.

In their letter, Maloney and Rouda said they found at least five EPA employees did not have signed ethics pledges required by an executive order from President TrumpDonald John TrumpJustice says it will recommend Trump veto FISA bill Fauci: Nominating conventions may be able to go on as planned Poll: Biden leads Trump by 11 points nationally MORE. Another eight took an average of 49 days to sign their ethics pledges.

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“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,” they wrote. “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.”

The EPA’s response has not entirely allayed the committee’s concerns, but they have agreed to a meeting with the agency.

“The committee remains concerned about the effectiveness of EPA’s ethics program, and looks forward to receiving a briefing from the senior ethics officials on the issues identified in our letter,” a senior Democratic committee aide told The Hill.