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Environment & Energy Report

EPA Watchdog Says Agency Official Isn’t Cooperating

Nov. 6, 2019, 8:59 PM

The EPA’s internal watchdog released a formal complaint Nov. 6 claiming Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s key adviser has consistently rebuffed investigation efforts.

The notice, known as a “seven day letter” and sent to Wheeler on Oct. 29, heightens simmering tensions between the Environmental Protection Agency’s political leadership and its Office of Inspector General, an independent body that has been aggressively challenging the agency’s actions.

Under federal law, Wheeler is required to send the OIG’s report to Congress, along with any comments he wishes to provide, within seven calendar days of receiving the letter.

In the letter, acting Inspector General Charles J. Sheehan wrote that his office has been trying to get EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson to sit down for an interview to discuss two matters—refusing to provide information and refusing to make himself available for interviews—but that he has responded with “repeated delays and refusals.”

“To countenance open defiance even in one instance—much less two, both by a senior official setting precedent for himself and all agency staff—is ruinous,” Sheehan wrote.

‘Trying to Intimidate Him’

In a Nov. 5 letter to Wheeler, Jackson said he has met with the OIG at least 27 times, offered to respond in writing to any questions, and said he was once badgered by two OIG investigators who arrived at his office unannounced and argued with his assistant for nearly an hour about his whereabouts.

In an Oct. 8 email to OIG, Jackson wrote that Sheehan’s staff “were rude to my assistant purposefully trying to intimidate him.” Jackson was in meetings at the time, but met with the investigators for more than an hour the next day, he wrote.

OIG’s decision to send the letter “is troubling in light of the assistance the agency provided and undermines the cooperative and iterative relationship that EPA has shared with its OIG,” an EPA spokeswoman said Nov. 6.

One of the matters OIG has been investigating concerns the testimony of Deborah Swackhamer, former chairwoman of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, at a May 2017 hearing before the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee about EPA’s relationship with the states.

‘I’m Not Participating’

Jackson had allegedly told Swackhamer to change her remarks and run them past the agency, which she refused to do, instead testifying as a private citizen.

Angela Bennett, an OIG project manager, wrote that when Jackson was asked how he had gotten a copy of Swackhamer’s testimony in advance, he told her: “Will I say where I got it from? No.”

Jackson has also said OIG hasn’t always been upfront about its meeting requests.

On Oct. 9, Jackson sent an email to OIG saying, “The fact that you cannot and will not provide the subject of what you want to meet with me about is unprofessional, and I’m not participating. Unless you have further substantive information, do not contact me further.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephen Lee in Washington at stephenlee@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com