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McCollum, Top Democrats Alarmed by EPA Contract with GOP Operatives

January 5, 2018
Press Release

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ranking Member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, and Democratic leaders of the Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure committees sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt today expressing their serious concerns regarding a no-bid contract awarded by EPA to Definers Public Affairs.

The Democrats voiced concerns that the $120,000 contract – recently terminated by Definers after press reports brought the contract to light – was awarded without full and open competition to a company with no apparent experience in providing these services to a Federal agency. The Democratic leaders also wrote that they were “deeply troubled” by Definers staffers’ involvement in an apparent witch hunt against EPA employees who may have publicly or privately expressed concerns about the agency or its leadership.

In addition to McCollum, the letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), E&C Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY), and T&I Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Grace Napolitano (D-CA).

 “We have become increasingly concerned about the secrecy and lack of transparency from your administration, and this latest report is an alarming new development,” the Democratic Committee leaders wrote to Administrator Pruitt.  “Hiring a firm that offers services attacking the press and surveilling your employees threatens the functioning of your agency and potentially the freedom of the press guaranteed by our Constitution.”

As part of their inquiry, the Democrats are requesting answers to a series of questions and additional information from Administrator Pruitt, including:

  • What was Pruitt’s role in selecting Definers for this award?  In addition to Pruitt, which EPA political appointees were involved in selecting Definers? 
  • Were Pruitt or other EPA political appointees aware of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by Definers employees against individual agency employees before the contract was awarded? 
  • Was Definers, America Rising, or any of their agents involved in creating or funding the website
  • Were Pruitt, his agents, or any current EPA employees involved in generating or reviewing the content of the website, or providing or raising funds for the site? 
  • What work did Definers perform for EPA pursuant to the contract?  What was the total amount of taxpayer funds EPA paid Definers during the duration of the contract? 
  • On December 10, The New York Times published an article identifying an alarming decrease in enforcement actions brought by the EPA under Pruitt’s leadership.   EPA issued an unusual press release in response, which has since been removed from the agency website but continues to be cited by conservative media sources.  What role did Definers play in the agency’s response to the December 10th article?  Provide any correspondence between EPA and any representative of Definers, America Rising, America Rising Squared, and the Need to Know Network regarding the December 10th article.
  • What firewalls were in place in the contract with Definers Corp to ensure that Definers firewalled the media monitoring services provided under the Contract from its services that would violate the Publicity or Propaganda Prohibition and Anti-Lobbying provisions?
  • Please provide a copy of the contract between EPA and Definers Corp. including any statement of work.  

The letter to Administrator Pruitt is available HERE.