Following Request from Senators Carper and Whitehouse, GAO Will Examine EPA’s Hiring Practices and Ethics Requirements for Political Appointees

GAO review comes after previous Senate requests to EPA for information on political appointees have gone “almost entirely unanswered”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has accepted a request from U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), ranking member of the EPW Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s various authorities being used to hire political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).

In their request sent to Comptroller General Gene Dodaro last month, Senators Carper and Whitehouse requested that GAO “examine the authorities, policies, practices, entities involved, and compliance with applicable ethics requirements that EPA and CEQ have followed in hiring non-confirmed political appointees.”

The senators reacted to GAO’s announcement, saying, “The whole point of ethics laws is to give the American people confidence that the work of their government is being conducted fairly, honestly, and free from special interest sway. But when an agency can just ignore those rules—and congressional oversight—the result often leads to corruption and scandal.  We’re grateful that GAO will let us know what EPA hasn’t.”

In their request to GAO, the senators noted, “…ethics requirements for political appointees vary by the authority under which the appointment was made.  Some of the appointees are in high-level positions, managing staff and making consequential decisions, yet they were hired in a manner that exempts them from compliance with Executive Order 13,770: Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees (otherwise known as the Trump Ethics Pledge). We are additionally concerned that the authorities are being abused and that non-confirmed political appointees may not be complying with the ethics requirements that do apply to them in a timely or complete manner.”

In March, Senators Carper and Whitehouse joined EPW colleagues in asking EPA Administrator Pruitt to address concerns about secrecy associated with the hiring of political appointees. The agency has not yet provided an adequate response to that request. 

In July, GAO accepted a similar request from lawmakers, led by Senators Whitehouse and Carper, to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s process for selecting federal advisory committee members. The review comes after EPA abruptly dismissed 12 scientists from its Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) earlier this year. In May, it was reported that EPA Administrator Pruitt intended to replace the scientists with officials from the industries that EPA is charged with regulating. Following the announcement, Senator Carper sent a letter to Mr. Pruitt seeking more information as to why the scientists were dismissed, but the agency has so far failed to provide adequate answers to that inquiry.