Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, sent a letter Feb. 14 to the U.S. Government Accountability Office to provide additional information relevant to GAO’s review of the Environmental Protection Agency’s policies and procedures for nomination and selecting federal advisory committee members.
Newly acquired internal EPA documents suggest that political appointees at EPA under Administrator Scott Pruitt are disregarding normal procedures designed to ensure compliance with federal law and risk undermining the integrity and impartiality of these boards.
“As GAO has previously observed, the EPA Science Advisory Board staff office ensures ‘that the board’s panelists are independent and that panels as a whole are balanced in their viewpoints and expertise.’ That includes ensuring compliance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act and the Ethics in Government Act. Normally, when candidates are nominated to serve on advisory committees, EPA’s career scientists and lawyers provide input to the Administrator regarding which nominees have the right scientific expertise and which have conflicts of interests. And normally, the administrator follows the career staff’s recommendations. Documents recently obtained by us, attached here, suggest that political appointees at EPA under Administrator Pruitt are disregarding normal procedures and advice from career staff. By doing so, they are avoiding the procedures put in place by the agency to ensure compliance with federal law and risk undermining the integrity and impartiality of these boards,” wrote Carper and Whitehouse.
The documents Carper and Whitehouse sent to GAO show that EPA political appointees disregarded the recommendations of EPA career staff regarding the qualified scientists and concerns raised related to potential conflicts of interests and lack of qualifications of two nominees to EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The EPA political appointees named these two nominees to CASAC in spite of the concerns that were raised, while rejecting the nominations of other qualified and independent scientists.
GAO initiated a review of EPA’s process for selecting federal advisory committee members after a request from lawmakers, led by Whitehouse and Carper, made last July; and GAO expanded the scope of its review after a second request in November in response to EPA Administrator Pruitt’s directive to exclude qualified scientists from EPA advisory committees.
Last month, Carper and Whitehouse questioned EPA Administrator Pruitt on his appointment of two advisers to serve on EPA’s Federal Advisory Committees even after public commenters warned that they may have financial conflicts of interest, may risk an appearance of impartiality and may lack the scientific expertise necessary to serve.
The letter to U.S. Comptroller General Gene Dodaro is available at bit.ly/2Hg1P6H.