EPA Side Hustles Draw Congressional Democrats’ Scrutiny (1)

From Environment & Energy Report

March 6, 2018

By Tiffany Stecker

Congressional Democrats are digging for more information on the side businesses of top EPA aides in an effort to uncover more details about how businesses shape the federal agency’s decisions.

The move indicates an escalating scrutiny of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s perceived ties with business, and a broader reflection of the Trump administration’s practice of making decisions that result in financial gains to friends and associates.

Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island called on Pruitt to disclose information about the role Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta plays at the agency. Perrotta, who heads Pruitt’s security detail and is principal of the surveillance and cybersecurity firm Sequoia Security Group, works with Edwin Steinmetz.

Steinmetz was hired last year to sweep Pruitt’s office for surveillance and recording devices and to purchase biometric locks, according to a March 6 letter from the senators, who requested details on Perrotta and Steinmetz and asked whether the relationship complied with ethics rules.

The senators’ letters come one day after House Energy and Commerce Democrats released documents March 5 showing that two top Environmental Protection Agency employees—John Konkus and Patrick Davis — received waivers to act as media consultants to clients.

The EPA didn’t immediately comment on the letters.

Ethics Permission Granted

Konkus, EPA deputy associate administrator for public affairs, was given permission by the agency’s top ethics official to earn up to $27,765 last year. Konkus provided advice on strategy, mail, and media production for at least two clients, according to the ethics waiver.

Davis, a special assistant in the Office of the Administrator, was granted a waiver to work outside of his EPA work hours for Telephone Town Hall Meeting, a provider of phone and online meeting services based in Genesee, Colo. A search on USASpending.gov, which hosts an online database of government contracts, for Telephone Town Hall Meeting or TTHM provided no results.

Neither Konkus nor Davis are allowed to participate in any EPA duties that will provide a “direct or predictable” financial benefit to their clients and must report their work on financial disclosure forms, according to the waivers.

The requirement that an employee recuse himself or herself on issues that could help their side business provides some oversight on the situation, Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, told Bloomberg Environment.

“There are checks and balances on this,” he said. But the possibility that Perrotta may have given helped his business partner obtain an exclusive contract with the EPA is troubling, Amey said.

“It could be an ethics issues as well as a contracting problem,” he said. “Sole-source” or “no-bid” contracts between a company and the federal government are allowed under certain circumstances but often frowned upon because it reduces competition.

Further Look

Konkus worked for Trump’s presidential campaign in Florida and later served as the EPA liaison for Trump’s transition team after the election. Davis worked as Colorado state director for the Trump campaign.

The committee’s minority will now look into Konkus’ role at the EPA while maintaining a private media consulting business, a House Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic representative told Bloomberg Environment.

“We think that it is unacceptable that these employees are maintaining a secret roster of clients,” the representative said.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee didn’t immediately respond to Bloomberg Environment’s request for comment.

Konkus has been charged with deciding which entities are eligible to receive EPA grants, an unusual role for a political appointee. The Washington Post reported last year that Konkus canceled nearly $2 million in competitively awarded grants to universities and nonprofit organizations working on climate change and other issues seen as contrary to the administration’s priorities.