House Democrats raise concerns about EPA officials with outside jobs

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democrats want answers from Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt about political appointees in his agency who got special permission to moonlight for outside clients, which they said may compromise their impartiality.

Top Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its oversight subcommittee said they sent questions to Pruitt on Monday after receiving documents they requested six months ago, which they said leave “many vital questions unanswered” about EPA appointees holding outside jobs.

The lawmakers, led by New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone, said in their letter that they were sending it “regarding serious concerns of impartiality of current U.S. EPA political appointees and to request additional information regarding appointees engaged in outside activity for compensation.”

Several current political appointees got approval by the EPA’s ethics office to engage in outside activity for compensation, agency records show.

Those employees include John Konkus, deputy associate administrator of public affairs, who was tapped by Pruitt to screen EPA grants, weeding out those that dealt with climate change or other issues not considered a priority by the Trump administration, the Washington Post reported last September.

In the documents it shared with the House Democrats the EPA redacted the names of Konkus’ clients, for which he was allowed to provide “consultative media advice.”

The lawmakers will wait for Pruitt to respond to their letter before determining their next steps, the committee Democrats’ spokesman, C.J. Young, said.

“We’re particularly interested in figuring out who the secret clients are that these Trump political appointees are working for on the side,” Young said on Tuesday.

The EPA did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Another political appointee, Patrick Davis, got permission from the ethics office to work as a sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting with the task of soliciting new clients.

Davis, who is senior advisor for public engagement to the regional administrator in the EPA’s Denver office, also owns a political consulting firm in Colorado.

Norm Eisen, who served as a special assistant to President Barack Obama on ethics and government reform, criticized the moonlighting revelations.

“I even made people quit uncompensated non-profit outside positions because of conflicts risks,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is FOR profit work that could conflict with official duties.”

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Szekely)

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