Ethics Watchdog: ‘Acting Head of EPA Office Admits to Ethics Violation’

Joseph Goffman, associate assistant administrator for climate and senior counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, addresses the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority winter meeting in Cheyenne, Wyo., on Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. Goffman was involved in drafting proposed new EPA limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants. Goffman says …
AP Photo/Mead Gruver

Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT), a government ethics watchdog group, on Wednesday filed a complaint with the Inspector General at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claiming that the Acting Associate Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Joseph Goffman could have violated ethics rules.

Public’s Trust’s in their press release stated that after they obtained documents via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other organizations, it was revealed to them that Goffman may have “improperly exerted his influence to arrange a high-level meeting with Agency personnel on behalf of his former employer.”

The press release added that before Goffman joined the EPA, he was the executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School. According to PPT, he was there during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017.

PPT wrote that in a recusal statement they were able to obtain from Goffman on April 8, he “took an action that, by his own admission, ‘my recusal bars me from‘ – recommending to a subordinate that they take a meeting with Harvard – and which caused ethics officials to have to ‘unring the bell.'”

PPT noted that the top ethics official at the EPA said Goffman knowingly agreed to not participate in actions revolving around Harvard but evidently “did not immediately recuse” himself after receiving an email from an employee at Harvard”:

[P]ursuant to Executive Order 13989, Section 2 and the ethics pledge that you signed you agreed not to “participate in any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to [your] former employer” for two years. Despite this restriction, upon receiving an email from an employee of Harvard University, you did not immediately recuse. Instead, you forwarded the email to a subordinate with a recommendation that the Agency should involve itself, and your subordinate agreed.

The ethics watchdog noted that the alleged actions from Goffman are “a blatant violation of ethics rules,” adding that Goffman being at the agency for the second time should have known better, especially since he signed the Recusal Statement less than two weeks prior to this incident.

“The American public deserves to be assured political appointees are carrying out their duties in an ethical, impartial manner without favoritism toward their former employers,” Michael Chamberlain, the director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said in a statement. He added:

Asking for forgiveness after the fact, or “unringing a bell,” runs completely counter to the letter, not just the spirit, of the ethics rules. Sadly, as EPA records become available to the public, it appears this is just one example of EPA’s leadership operating in the gray areas, and beyond, of their ethics obligations. The American public has every right to expect more from an administration that has anointed itself the most ethical in history.

The watchdog group has flagged multiple employees from the EPA after going through documents obtained via FOIA. The group recently added EPA’s Principal Deputy General Counsel Melissa Hoffer to their Ethics Waiver Tracker.

Follow Jacob Bliss on Twitter @jacobmbliss.

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