WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a hearing on the nomination of Sean O’Donnell to be Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. O’Donnell, for appearing before our committee and for your willingness to serve as Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment. Our country relies on EPA to safeguard communities from hazardous waste, toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas emissions, and other harmful air and water pollutants. EPA’s dedicated career staff works every day to ensure we have clean air, safe drinking water and a healthy environment. However, in order for EPA to protect all of us in this country, the agency itself must be protected from the kinds of misconduct that can impair its important mission. This responsibility falls in large part to the EPA Inspector General.
“As EPA’s principal oversight official, the ‘IG’ is charged with detecting and preventing fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and misconduct across EPA and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. The Inspector General is a watchdog for the American people and provides an independent voice of integrity. Unfortunately, the EPA has been without a confirmed Inspector General for more than a year, which is far too long—so, needless to say, we are glad to be considering your nomination today, Mr. O’Donnell. If confirmed, you will have a big job ahead of you.
“The Office of Inspector General has completed some valuable audits of EPA’s programs and activities in recent days. Just last month, the IG released a report evaluating EPA’s efforts to ensure that public drinking water systems notify the public when unsafe levels of water contamination are detected, as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result of that audit and evaluation, EPA has agreed to undertake recommended improvements to bolster the systems that protect Americans’ drinking water.
“Under the Trump Administration, however, we have seen far too many breaches of ethics and abuses of authority among the political leaders at EPA. The many ethics violations committed by former Administrator Scott Pruitt have been well documented, but those violations bear repeating today. These include Mr. Pruitt’s acceptance of below-market rent housing from the wife of a lobbyist with business before the EPA, Mr. Pruitt’s use of his position to try to acquire a Chick-fil-A franchise and other employment opportunities for his wife, and Mr. Pruitt’s practice of using his security detail to run personal errands.
“More recently, former Assistant Administrator Bill Wehrum and his deputy appeared to have helped reverse EPA’s position in a power plant enforcement case involving their former industry clients. Senator Whitehouse, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Pallone and I referred this matter to the Office of Inspector General in February of this year. In May and July of this year, Senator Whitehouse and I provided additional referrals after we uncovered more evidence.
“In addition to detecting and preventing waste and fraud within the EPA’s programs, it is critical that one of your highest priorities as the EPA IG will be to ensure that these kinds of flagrant violations of public trust are documented, and that those responsible for the violations are held accountable—even when they leave the agency.
“Regrettably, over the past two years, many of my colleagues on this committee and I have been frustrated by what seems to be the Office of Inspector General’s reluctance or even refusal to investigate ethics breaches and abuses of power by EPA’s political leadership. In particular, last year, after Mr. Pruitt resigned, I was very discouraged to learn that the Office of Inspector General halted multiple ongoing investigations into allegations of abuse and decided their efforts were inconclusive because they could not interview Mr. Pruitt.
“This sends the wrong signal to the agency and to the country that public servants at the highest levels can avoid accountability for their misconduct simply by leaving the job before an investigation is complete. The whole truth matters, and the next Inspector General must do all that can be done to ensure that the whole truth is revealed; that those responsible for misconduct will face appropriate consequences for their actions.
“It is also important for the next Inspector General to understand that part of the job is to protect the integrity of internal oversight functions within EPA. Across the agency, there are offices with the responsibility to support and enforce the agency’s ethics and other rules. However, these offices cannot fulfill their oversight responsibilities when the subjects of that oversight are their bosses who wield power over their positions. When this happens, the Office of Inspector General is responsible for ensuring that oversight is conducted.
“Mr. O’Donnell, I look forward to hearing your views on these matters. Your experience at the Department of Justice indicates that you have the ability to doggedly pursue financial crimes and public corruption investigations. I hope you are ready to use those skills to investigate corruption at EPA and pursue investigations, wherever the facts may lead. Thank you.”