Coming Soon to EPA: A Trump Transition Team

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By Patrick Ambrosio

Nov. 10 — The Environmental Protection Agency should expect to have a few visitors arriving soon: a small “landing team” that will start work on the transition of power from President Barack Obama to President-elect Donald Trump.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to do away with “needless and job-killing” regulations as part of his economic plan, specifically highlighting major Obama-era environmental rules like the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule. He also pledged to conduct a “targeted review” to identify regulations that inhibit job growth.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on when the EPA transition team would arrive and what its role would be.

However, David Eagles, director of the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview conducted prior to Election Day that an agency-specific transition team should be dispatched to the EPA “a few days after the election” to begin its work. The Center for Presidential Transition offered assistance to both the Trump and Clinton campaigns in advance of the election to help them prepare for an orderly transition process.

Transition Being Closely Watched

While Trump was critical of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and pledged to lift restrictions on domestic energy production on the campaign trail, he generally offered few specifics on his plans for the EPA beyond that. Trump tapped Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, to lead the EPA transition.

Political observers will be watching the Trump transition closely to gain more insight on his administration’s plans once in office, according to Chris Vieson, a partner at Public Strategies Washington Inc. and former Director of Floor Operations for former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Vieson told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 9 that Trump’s policies are still a “wild card” and no one knows quite what to expect.

Focus on What’s Ahead

In past transitions, agency-specific teams have been deployed to review government operations and make recommendations for how to best implement the president-elect’s policy goals once he took office.

Eagles said the EPA should expect to see a landing team of 12 to 15 people, similar to the number dispatched by Obama in 2008.

In 2008, the goals of that EPA transition team were to review major actions taken under President George W. Bush, examine the agency’s budget and learn about all of the rulemaking, guidance and other actions in the regulatory pipeline, according to one source who worked on the Obama transition. The source, interviewed before the election, told Bloomberg BNA that while each transition is “a little bit different,” one of the main goals of Obama’s agency transition teams was to be prepared for the things that would have to be dealt with soon after the inauguration.

“We wanted to know exactly what was coming down the pike,” the source told Bloomberg BNA.

During the last transition, each member of the EPA landing team was responsible for reviewing a different aspect of the agency, and each developed a memo describing what they had learned and offered their ideas, according to the Obama transition official. The transition team was able to conduct interviews with outgoing and career staff at the agency and obtain agency documents to help facilitate the review.

Administration Prepared to Brief Trump Teams

The Obama administration is prepared to brief the Trump transition team with “detailed, agency-specific briefings,” according to a fact sheet issued Nov. 10 by the White House.

“Those briefings include organizational charts, budget materials, briefings on key agency priorities and areas of responsibility, and other materials describing the essential functions of that agency,” the White House said. “In addition to the initial briefings, designated employees across the administration will work closely with their agency review teams in order to facilitate open communication between the outgoing and incoming administrations.”

Trump’s EPA transition team will likely receive “massive briefing books” on each of the agency’s programs, including air pollution, water, waste and pesticides, according to Jim Aidala, a senior government affairs consultant with Bergeson & Campbell P.C. in Washington D.C. Aidala, who worked at the EPA from 1993 through 2001, including a stint as assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, told Bloomberg BNA in an interview conducted before the election that those briefing books will need to include updates on pending litigation and decisions that need to be made early in the administration.

Aidala highlighted a number of pending decisions that need to be made under the amended Toxic Substances Control Act (Pub. L. No. 114-182) that was signed into law in 2016. For the new chemicals law, the incoming EPA team will need to be briefed on necessary implementation activities, including prioritization of chemicals for review and new hiring to expand the agency’s chemicals program, Aidala said.

Career Staff Cooperation Expected

Aidala, in a follow-up interview conducted Nov. 9, said that there may be some “initial skepticism” between some at the EPA and the Trump transition team. During the primaries, Trump said he’d like to eliminate the agency, but later backed off on that promise and said he planned to refocus the EPA on its “core mission” of focusing on clean air and safe drinking water.

However, Aidala noted many of the mid-level and senior career staff at the EPA have been at the agency long enough that they’ve seen administrations of both political parties come and go.

“Career staff across the government are professionals,” he said. “There is a general duty to tell the leadership what is important and what is not.”

Eight years ago, the Obama transition teams generally found the outgoing administration to be “quite helpful” and “very professional,” according to the Obama transition source.

“Generally they were very forthcoming and they made it clear to people within the agency that they were expected to cooperate,” the source said. “I think the career staff over at the EPA welcomed the opportunity to talk to the transition team....I didn’t see the political management of the agency interfering with that.”

—With assistance from Rachel Leven

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Ambrosio in Washington, D.C., at PAmbrosio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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