The EPA’s Inspector General has informed American Oversight that it will not be investigating the agency’s awarding of a government contract to a politically-connected consulting firm. In an email to American Oversight, the IG cited the agency’s decision to cancel the contract and said that “no further action” would be taken. The IG’s failure to investigate allows the EPA to escape scrutiny for the controversial contract.
Less than 24 hours after American Oversight and the Environmental Working Group called for an Inspector General investigation into the EPA’s contract with Definers, the agency canceled the contract with the GOP-allied consulting firm.
Statement from American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers:
“Today’s news is not the end of this story. It’s more important now than ever for the EPA’s Inspector General to get to the bottom of why a politically connected firm was given a no-bid contract at the taxpayers’ expense. The Inspector General also needs to investigate whether Administrator Pruitt has used Definers and its associated organizations to further his own political agenda and investigate the career civil servants who work under him. Sadly, when it comes to Pruitt’s mismanagement of the EPA, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Washington, DC – Non-partisan watchdog group American Oversight and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) today called for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General to immediately investigate the agency’s no-bid contract to Definers Public Affairs, a Republican media consulting firm.
“Every time you turn around, there’s another example of Scott Pruitt abusing his office to hide his actions from public scrutiny, undermine scientific dissent, and retaliate against perceived adversaries,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “Taxpayers have a right to know why their money is being funneled to a well-connected political consulting firm through a no-bid contract, even as associates of that firm investigate career employees at the EPA.”
“Whatever bar must be met to launch an IG investigation, Administrator Pruitt has more than cleared it with this latest batch of revelations,” said Ken Cook, President of Environmental Working Group. “It appears Pruitt and his allies outside of the agency are building an enemies list that could be used to punish EPA employees who have simply questioned his and the Trump administration’s policies. Between this no-bid contract to his friends at Definers and his private phone booth, Mr. Pruitt has now spent $145,000 in taxpayer money to keep his work hidden from the public eye and silence anyone who seeks to challenge it.”
On December 15, Mother Jones reported that the EPA had signed a $120,000 no-bid contract for media monitoring services with Definers Public Affairs, a consulting firm led by Matt Rhoades and Joe Pounder, two longtime Republican political operatives. The New York Times subsequently reported on further details of the contract.
This arrangement appears to violate federal procurement rules which restrict no-bid contracts solely when no other vendors are available – something that is highly unlikely given the wide availability of media monitoring services in Washington, DC.
Further questions have been raised by Definers Public Affairs’ relationship with America Rising, a Republican opposition research organization that was founded by Rhoades and Pounder. America Rising’s affiliated 501(c)(4) was heavily involved in promoting Administrator Pruitt during his nomination process, effectively running a public relations campaign on his behalf.
Additionally, Allan Blutstein, a top executive at both Definers and America Rising, has submitted more than 40 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the EPA since the start of the Trump administration, frequently targeting career employees who have been critical of Pruitt and the White House.
Taken together, this complex web of connections raises serious concerns that taxpayer money may have been improperly spent with a politically connected firm, and that top EPA leadership has used outside groups to investigate its own employees. American Oversight and EWG are calling on the EPA’s Inspector General to fully investigate this manner to ensure the integrity of the agency’s leadership and use of official resources.
Note: Mother Jones initially broke the story of the EPA $120,000 no-bid contract with Definers Public Affairs.
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