WASHINGTON – A senior official in the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement office has warned managers they should direct inquiries from reporters, congressional investigators and the agency’s inspector general to designated officials rather than answering the questions themselves, according to an e-mail obtained by the Washington Post.
The June 16 e-mail from Robbi Farrell, who heads the agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, instructs managers to remind employees that if they “are contacted directly by the IG’s office or GAO requesting information of any kind … Please do not respond to questions or make any statements.” Farrell issued the same instructions for media inquiries.
Francesca Grifo, director of the scientific integrity program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group, said the missive highlighted the quandary some EPA officials face when they want to speak out against political interference with their work. In April, the group released a survey of agency officials in which 889 of nearly 1,600 staff scientists surveyed said they had encountered political interference in their jobs at least once in the past five years.
“Our recent investigation of the EPA tells us that retaliation is widespread at that agency,” said Grifo. “So it’s critical that when the IG’s office and GAO are investigating a wrongdoing, employees are able to speak confidentially. The work of the IG and GAO have repeatedly helped protect the health and safety of Americans.”
EPA spokeswoman Roxanne Smith – who was identified in Farrell’s e-mail as one of two press officers who should handle questions from reporters – said the division chief was trying “to ensure consistency and coordination among those responding to IG and GAO reports.”
No one should view the e-mail as a change in policy, Smith added.