Press Releases

Watchdogs Seek IG Investigation into Secretary Haaland’s Top Counselor

Senior Counselor to the Secretary Potentially Misrepresented Former Client Relationships

Today, Energy Policy Advocates (EPA) and Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General (IG) and ethics officials presenting information that suggests Senior Counselor to the Secretary Elizabeth Klein may have violated federal ethics laws and the Biden Ethics Pledge. These provisions prohibit political appointees from engaging in certain matters involving former employers and clients.

Ms. Klein, whose nomination for Deputy Secretary was withdrawn before she could be confirmed by the Senate, may have failed to provide vital information about the scope of her former employment from ethics officials preparing her guidance. While this alone could constitute an ethics violation, it also might have resulted in her working on matters she would have been prohibited from participating in if ethics officials were fully informed of her previous client relationships.

Ms. Klein served as Deputy Director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center (the “Center”) from January 2017 until joining Interior in January 2021. The Center, using funds obtained from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, entered into controversial agreements with state attorneys general (AG) offices around the country. As part of these agreements, the Center provided communications and consulting services and paid for legal fellows to assist the state AG offices with environmental litigation, much of which was in opposition to policies and actions of the Department of the Interior.

EPA’s state litigation efforts have uncovered agreements which Ms. Klein’s former employer entered into with at least 11 states. Yet documents provided by the Department indicate Ms. Klein may have revealed relationships to ethics officials regarding only five states. Ms. Klein’s potential conflicts of interest have also drawn the attention of Congressional representatives. EPA and PPT assert that a full investigation is warranted to ascertain whether Ms. Klein provided all appropriate information to ethics officials and whether she may have participated in matters from which she should have been recused.

“These new documents uncovered by Energy Policy Advocates suggest that Ms. Klein may have provided consulting services to many more state AG offices than just those reflected in her ethics guidance,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, said. “The belief that ethics obligations are not enforced equally is a major reason the American public’s trust in its government is at an all-time low. Of course, ethics officials can only provide guidance based on the information they are given. We believe that a complete and thorough investigation is necessary to ensure that Interior officials are fully adhering to their ethics obligations and avoiding potential conflicts.”

“The American people deserve to know that public servants have disclosed all the work they did in the private sector and recused from decisions that might benefit their former employers,” stated Rob Schilling, Executive Director of Energy Policy Advocates. “We hope the Inspector General will take a close look at these records and investigate whether Ms. Klein inappropriately failed to disclose her private employment or to recuse herself from decisions involving her former clients.”

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The American public deserves to know:

  • Whether a state AG office’s decision to enter into a Secondment Agreement with Ms. Klein’s employer, including a Secondment Agreement that explicitly listed Ms. Klein as a point of contact, made Ms. Klein a “consultant,” “agent,” “contractor,” or other analogous relationship to the state AG;
  • Whether a state AG office’s decision to enter into a Common Interest Agreement with former clients of Ms. Klein’s on matters where she participated in the coordination and strategic development of that unified party litigation, made Ms. Klein a “consultant,” “agent,” “contractor,” or other analogous relationship to those parties;
  • Whether Ms. Klein timely disclosed to ethics officials the existence and nature of her contractual relationship with all of the state AG offices who signed a Secondment Agreement with Ms. Klein’s employer during her tenure;
  • Whether ethics advice was contemporaneously provided in written form regarding these additional relationships, and if so, when, in what manner, and why have these documents not been provided as responsive documents in relevant FOIA requests; if such advice was not contemporaneously provided in written form, why was it not and was that requested by Ms. Klein?
  • Whether Ms. Klein inappropriately avoided disclosing to ethics officials that several state AG offices signed Secondment Agreements with her former employer during her tenure;
  • Whether and to what extent Ms. Klein has participated in particular matters involving any of the states that signed a Secondment Agreement since joining the Department;
  • Whether Ms. Klein sought ethics approval prior to participation with any former client – including former clients ultimately listed on her recusal list and former clients with whom she provided strategic and communications services to under the Secondment Agreements;
  • Whether the temporary removal of Ms. Klein’s former clients from her recusal list in April 2020 (which were later added in June 2020) was justified and whether Ms. Klein inappropriately attended any meetings with those three states in that time period.

Watchdog Files Lawsuit to Obtain Records Supporting State Department’s Decision to Fund Palestinian Authority

Continued Delay of State Department Records Raises Concerns over Legal Foundation for Renewed Funding

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced it has filed suit in Federal court seeking to force the U.S. State Department to release documents in response to a more than eight-month-old Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Despite repeated efforts at outreach by PPT, State refuses to indicate when it will begin producing records.
 
PPT’s request, filed on May 13, 2021, asks for records related to the resumption of direct and indirect aid to the Palestinian Authority. Absent proper certification, this action may have violated the Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress in 2018, which bans non-humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Authority unless certain conditions are met, including ceasing payments for acts of terrorism against U.S. and Israeli citizens. According to media reports at the time State decided to resume the payments, the Department was “unable to certify” those conditions had been met.
 
In response to a series of follow-up inquiries by PPT, the State Department has stated it will be unable to complete the request until December 16, 2022, while refusing to commit to even an estimate of when it will begin to provide records. PPT asserts in the suit that State has failed to live up to its statutory obligations regarding the request, which has already been pending for many times the period allowed for federal agencies to provide a FOIA determination, and its only recourse is the last resort, litigation.

“The American public depends on transparency, never more so when matters of law and the lives of their countrymen and allies abroad may be at stake,” declared Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Sitting on timely information, while millions of additional taxpayer dollars possibly flow to activities prohibited under the law, flies in the face of the commitment government agencies owe to those they serve. Protect the Public’s Trust will continue our work to ensure agencies live up to their legal obligations and this starts with greater transparency.”

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PPT Asks: Does USDA Have Something to Hide?

Watchdog forced to appeal agency’s repeated failure to produce records

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced another chapter in its continuing saga of attempting to obtain waiver documents for high-ranking officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). After the agency once again failed to produce records that are referenced in other publicly available documents, PPT filed an appeal of USDA’s closure of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
 
As PPT revealed in a September press release, Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack was granted a waiver that, according to a media report, “allows him to oversee” a program through which he collects payments from USDA. Secretary Vilsack’s Certification of Ethics Agreement Compliance, available on the Office of Government Ethics website, also exposes the existence of this waiver.
 
A second search by USDA in response to a PPT FOIA request, which agency officials agreed to expedite, produced 74 pages of responsive documents. Interestingly enough, none of them pertained to Secretary Vilsack’s waiver. As PPT describes in the appeal,

It appears that one of two things is necessarily true: either Secretary Vilsack filed an inaccurate Certification of Ethics Agreement, or the Department failed to find and produce all relevant documents. Of the two, we believe that the latter is more likely. It strains credulity that an adequate search would miss an ethics waiver for the highest ranking official in the Department that has been reported elsewhere.

In addition, PPT believes USDA improperly used exemptions to redact an excessive amount of content from the records it did provide.

“It’s a couple weeks early for Groundhog Day but we seem to be stuck in a similar loop as Bill Murray in the movie,” stated Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain. “The American public trusts that agencies promptly, completely, and with the utmost transparency provide records in response to FOIA requests. While the Biden Administration talks a good game about transparency, our experience with many agencies has fallen far short of their lofty pronouncements.”

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Fauci’s 2020 Election Interview a “Close Call” on Hatch Act Violation

“OSC generally advises employees that it is best not to discuss candidates for partisan political office when speaking in their official capacity”

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust revealed the results of an inquiry by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) into statements made by Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Dr. Anthony Fauci leading up to the 2020 Presidential election. OSC’s determination was reached in response to PPT’s Hatch Act complaint against Dr. Fauci filed in June 2021.   

In PPT’s complaint, the watchdog highlighted what appeared to be impermissible political activity by Dr. Fauci during a Washington Post interview published on October 31, 2020. Dr. Fauci made statements criticizing President Donald Trump’s handling of COVID-19 at the time and praising then-candidate Joe Biden’s approach, despite characterizing similar comments as “political” in another venue mere days earlier.

In its letter dated January 3rd, OSC noted that the statements came just days before the 2020 election and stated that it “generally advises employees that it is best not to discuss candidates for partisan political office when speaking in their official capacity.” While ultimately finding no technical violation, the OSC’s Deputy Chief conceded that the Washington Post author “may have written it from a particular perspective and tried to use Dr. Fauci’s words to make a political point.”

“The highest-paid employee in the federal government, and one of the most influential public voices, should be held to the highest standards of conduct,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Unfortunately, as the Office of Special Counsel noted, Dr. Fauci disregarded its best practices around the Hatch Act and enabled his official position to be used ‘to make a political point’ even if his motives were unclear. We respect OSC’s determination that this was a ‘close call’ but believe the American public deserves more from officials such as Dr. Fauci.”

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Watchdog Adds Another to Ethics Waiver Tracker

Solicitor General Permitted to Work on Case Involving Her Former Employer

Today, watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced a new addition to its Ethics Waiver Tracker. The Department of Justice granted Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, a law professor at Harvard University prior to joining the Biden Administration, a waiver to the Biden Ethics Pledge to participate in a case involving Harvard.

The waiver authorizes Prelogar to participate in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College. Students for Fair Admissions was brought on behalf of a group of Asian-American students who claimed Harvard’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The plaintiffs lost in the First Circuit and have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS), which has not yet made a decision whether to accept the case.

Prelogar was appointed to serve as the Biden Administration’s Acting Solicitor General on January 29, 2021. In June, SCOTUS delayed an appeal hearing in Students for Fair Admissions, asking Prelogar, in her role as Acting Solicitor General, to file a brief expressing the federal government’s views on the case. In August, the President announced Prelogar’s nomination for Solicitor General, forcing her to step down from her role as acting solicitor general. She was confirmed by the Senate on October 28 and received the waiver on November 18. On December 8, DOJ filed an amicus brief (signed by Prelogar) urging SCOTUS to reject the Students for Fair Admissions appeal. During the Trump Administration DOJ had weighed in on the case in favor of the plaintiffs. Prelogar’s waiver to the Biden Ethics Pledge indicates she was previously granted a waiver to federal ethics laws to participate in the case. That waiver has not yet been made available to the public.

In addition to adding Prelogar’s waiver to its Ethics Waiver Tracker, Protect the Public’s Trust also filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain records related to Prelogar’s involvement in the case. The requested records will help the public understand when and why such authorization was granted.

“While ethics waivers are not uncommon, transparency is vital to ensure the interests of the American public are protected,” declared Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain. “The timeline of events around Ms. Prelogar’s waiver and her involvement in this important case raise questions. We’re hopeful that DOJ will quickly and completely provide the requested records.”

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Watchdog Investigation Produces Biden Cabinet Transparency Report

Nearly two-thirds of agencies studied provide no public information on their top leaders’ meetings

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust unveiled a report evaluating an important aspect of transparency for nearly two dozen members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and other senior leaders at important federal agencies. The study of public calendars for 19 federal agencies reveals a wide disparity in the levels of transparency regarding the agency head’s schedule.

Of the agencies studied, Protect the Public’s Trust ranked the transparency of the Environmental Protection Agency highest. EPA earned the only “A” grade, with areas for improvement concerning proactively providing detailed information on the topics and attendees for Administrator Michael Regan’s meetings.

PPT awarded “B” grades to two agencies – the Departments of Labor and Defense. The Departments of Education, State, and Treasury earned “C” grades. Originally, the Department of the Interior (DOI) had earned the only “D” grade from PPT. However, after the report was submitted for publication, DOI filled in a four-month gap of calendars for Secretary Deb Haaland. PPT updated Interior’s grade to a “C” as a result of the additional information.

Twelve of the agencies – the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Office of Personnel Management, Small Business Administration, and U.S. Agency for International Development provide no easily-accessible public schedule or calendar for their agency head. Some agencies’ current lack of transparency stands in contrast to the level demonstrated by their predecessors in the Trump and Obama administrations.

Access to a top leaders’ schedule allows the public to see with whom the agency’s primary decision maker is meeting and what topics they are discussing.

“Transparency is a foundational element of the American system of government,” stated Director of Protect the Public’s Trust, Michael Chamberlain. “It’s also important for agencies to be proactive about providing this information, which is vital for the American public’s ability to ascertain who is influencing policymakers at the highest levels. Every agency we looked at has room for improvement. We’re hopeful that by PPT shining the light on current and former practices at these agencies they will pursue those improvements. This is just the start of a continuing project. The American public deserves it.”

The grades above are based on four aspects of each agency’s principal officer’s (Secretary, Administrator, etc.) calendar, with the letter grade assigned based on how many of the criteria PPT determined the agency meets.

  • Accessibility – How easy or difficult is it for the layperson to find and to navigate through? To gauge accessibility, we looked for links to the calendar on the agency’s home page and the principal’s and principal’s office’s information page, used relevant search terms such as “secretary calendar” or “administrator calendar” and “[principal’s last name] calendar”, and searched for links to calendars in the agency’s FOIA Reading Room, where they post common requests.
  • Quality – Does the calendar provide meaningful information regarding who has the ear of the agency principal? Can the reader determine whom the principal met with and what they discussed? For each agency providing a public calendar, PPT noted whether it contained only public appearances or listed private meetings as well. The best examples are copies of the official’s Outlook/Google calendar or an online document in which all of the information that would be contained in that calendar, including individual attendees and topic, is presented. 
  • Completeness – How much of the principal’s tenure is available on the calendar? An agency can hardly be deemed transparent if the publicly available calendar is missing significant blocks of time. 
  • Timeliness – How often are the entries posted? The more time that elapses from the date of a meeting until it is made public, the less useful the information.

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2021 in Review: A Year of Ethical Lapses

Protect the Public’s Trust was founded on the belief that public service is a public trust. Unfortunately, the trend line is clear – the American public’s trust in its government is rapidly declining. This is why it’s so vital to keep the light shining on the actions of our public servants to ensure they are held to the highest standards. At a minimum, this means avoiding potential conflicts of interest and questionable conduct that erodes that trust. As we close the book on 2021, here is a recap of the most concerning Executive Branch conduct discovered and exposed by PPT in its founding year.

“The American public has high expectations of its public servants,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “While we have an administration that declares itself the most ethical in history, that message appears not to have filtered down to some of the places and officials where that commitment matters most. The public deserves better and we’re hopeful that, by continuing to shine the spotlight, PPT will help usher in the transparency and integrity in government that Americans deserve.”

BLM’s #2 Under Investigation
In response to a complaint from federal ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust, an investigation was opened by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of the Interior into Nada Culver, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director of Policy and Programs. The investigation is exploring whether Ms. Culver violated her ethics agreement by participating in matters involving Public Land Orders that were strongly opposed by her former employer prior to Culver joining the Department.

BLM’s #1 Also Potentially Under Investigation
PPT alerted both the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and Department of the Interior Inspector General to potential false statements made by Tracy Stone-Manning during her confirmation as BLM director. Ms. Stone-Manning’s written testimony provided to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee have been directly contradicted by one of Ms. Stone-Manning’s former co-conspirators in the tree spiking incident that sent multiple individuals to prison, the Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, and the lead federal investigator in the case. Indeed, even contemporaneous media interviews by Ms. Stone-Manning at the time of the criminal trial indicate she may have been untruthful in her testimony.

Top EPA Science Official’s Ongoing Ties to China
Through documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, PPT discovered and revealed that senior EPA leaders had signed off on a high-ranking official’s continued employment relationship with an instrumentality of the Chinese government while serving at the agency. The official, Christopher Frey, later pledged to resign from the adjunct professorship that created this relationship if confirmed by the Senate.

Ethics Woes of Energy Head
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm had a rocky first year as she faced substantial criticism over her relationship with electric vehicle component manufacturer Proterra, where she formerly served as a Board member. In May, Granholm netted around $1.6M from her sale of Proterra stock options, after holding them nearly 100 days into her stint as Secretary of Energy. During this time, the Administration and the President specifically boosted the company for promotion, raising concerns among independent ethics experts and media outlets. In November, she again drew attention as she stood in front of Proterra buses at a prominent event where she announced millions of dollars of federal grants to long-standing Proterra business partners. Shortly after, PPT filed a complaint alleging Secretary Granholm committed ethics violations by her participation and implicit endorsement of her former employer.

Granholm is also facing tough questions from members of the United States Senate and multiple complaints to the Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act based on her actions leading up to Fall elections.

Transparency Challenges over Interior Secretary’s Calendar Records
Calendar records of senior agency leaders have often been important in understanding who is influencing agency decisions and ensuring all ethics and legal responsibilities are being upheld. These records are not always easy to obtain, however. An investigation by PPT revealed that Interior’s Director of Communications may have played a part in withholding these records from the public. In late July, Secretary Haaland’s top spokesperson declared that political appointees on the Department’s communications team took down a version of her calendar for aesthetic reasons.

In September, PPT filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding the Department of the Interior release these records after nearly four months of failing to respond to a Freedom of Information Act request. After the lawsuit was filed, the Department quietly added some of the requested information to its webpage.

COVID Misinformation by Senior Government Officials
Scientific integrity over one of the biggest issues affecting Americans today – COVID-19 – is essential to maintaining the public’s trust in respected institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH). As this trust deteriorates, though, PPT has joined other watchdogs is calling out potential misinformation and violations of important scientific integrity principles. In October, PPT requested the Department of Health and Human Services investigate possible violations of the agency’s scientific integrity principles by senior officials. The federal watchdog alleged that the CDC and NIH on multiple occasions misrepresented the results of a study on the CDC website and in public appearances.

Top Granholm Deputy Caught in Continued Pattern of Endorsement
PPT’s independent research uncovered several instances in which the Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the Department of Energy may have violated her ethics obligations. The watchdog asked, on two separate occasions, for the Department to investigate instances in which Kelly Speakes-Backman appears to have participated in events where she either endorsed her former employer, the Energy Storage Association, or was sponsored by a “Leadership Circle” Member of her former employer while acting in her official DOE capacity. Agency efforts to withhold records critical to this investigation also became the subject of a lawsuit by PPT in the Fall. DOE is now subject to a monthly production schedule to release responsive documents.

Tracking Senior Appointees Who Were Granted Waivers to Ethics Obligations
Restricting high-ranking government officials from working on issues that benefit their previous employers or clients is important to maintaining public trust. When these restrictions are relaxed, the public should be alerted. Protect the Public’s Trust unveiled its Ethics Waiver Tracker in which it compiled publicly available ethics waivers, including limited waivers and impartiality determinations granted by ethics officials to high-level Executive Branch leadership. As PPT tracks these waivers, agencies have been less-than-forthcoming in providing these documents.

Another Interior Official Facing Multiple Potential Investigations
Protect the Public’s Trust filed a complaint with the Department of the Interior asking the Office of the Inspector General to look into whether a high-ranking official may have violated the criminal conflict of interest law that applies to federal officials. Deputy Solicitor Daniel Cordalis appears to have personally rescinded a January 2021 memo issued by career attorneys, an act that could benefit an entity that is both his former employer and his wife’s current employer. Cordalis’s potential investigation could make him the second official within Interior’s Office of the Solicitor who is facing an investigation after Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan called out Cordalis’s colleague, Natalie Landreth, for also participating in issues that might violate her ethics obligations. If these investigations are pursued, it could mean two different offices at Interior have more than one appointee currently under investigation.

Fauci Caught in the Act?
Senior government officials are required to leave their politics at the door. This is even more important for high-ranking officials with influential media profiles whose public endorsements have the potential to impact national elections. This appears to have occurred in the lead up to the 2020 elections by the U.S. government’s highest paid employee and one of the most recognizable voices on television today. In June, PPT urged the Office of Special Counsel to investigate statements by National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci that appeared to violate the Hatch Act and secure his influential position as one of the President’s chief COVID advisors.

EPA Web of Conflicts
PPT’s investigation of ethics waivers granted to political appointees revealed an enormous wave of EPA leadership roles being filled by leaders from large, powerful special interest groups. Even as an “overlap of recusals” is forcing the agency’s ethics officials to grant waivers to ethics rules just to allow the agency to properly function, EPA is impeding requests for access to public records regarding high-level officials.

Unringing the Bell at EPA
Documents obtained via FOIA from PPT and other organizations revealed EPA’s Acting Associate Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation Joseph Goffman may have improperly exerted his influence to arrange a high-level meeting with Agency personnel on behalf of his former employer. Goffman admitted to taking an action “my recusal bars me from” and was admonished by ethics officials who then had to attempt to “unring the bell.”

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PPT Forces Greater Transparency by the U.S. Department of the Interior

Agency releases more of Secretary Haaland’s schedule to the public after watchdog’s lawsuit

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) announced that, after the group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency finally and without fanfare released to the public, on its website, long-withheld documents PPT sought in its litigation.  

In recent weeks, the Department quietly added information from Secretary Deb Haaland’s calendar to its webpage containing the calendars for her predecessors. Initially, DOI released her calendar for the month of August, skipping a bloc of time representing, at the time, about half of her term. Then, weeks later, the Department filled in information for the missing four months. In September PPT sued Interior seeking documents responsive to a May FOIA request regarding the schedule and meetings of Secretary Haaland.

Breaking with a precedent in place during the Trump and Obama Administrations, until recently the Department had posted just over two weeks of calendar and meeting documents for Secretary Haaland. Seeking to remedy this secrecy, PPT submitted its May FOIA and then, after being ignored by DOI, filed suit. Interior’s lack of transparency also prompted a response from members of both Houses of Congress.

An investigation by Protect the Public’s Trust revealed that during a webinar with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) in July, Interior’s Director of Communications, Melissa Schwartz, declared that political appointees on the Department’s communications team took down an earlier version of the Secretary’s calendar months before for what she claimed to be aesthetic reasons. While Haaland served in Congress as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, her colleagues criticized Interior’s online calendars they believed were delayed or provided insufficient detail.

“Ensuring transparency is essential to restoring the American public’s trust in its government,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “While we’re certainly pleased that Protect the Public’s Trust’s work appears to have prodded Interior into becoming more transparent, the sad reality is that it should not have taken that. This is yet another instance in which the Biden Administration’s promises to be the most ethical and transparent in history are not supported by the actions of the Department of the Interior.”

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PPT Announces Probe Into National Labor Relations Board Recusal Decision

Two board members allowed to participate in case in which they have potential conflicts of interest

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust announced it was seeking information from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regarding the decision to allow two members of the Board to participate in a case that may present potential conflicts of interest. Board Members Gwynne Wilcox and David Prouty have been granted permission to participate in a case in which the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is a party despite ties to SEIU stemming from their employment prior to NLRB confirmation. NLRB members are subject to the federal ethics laws that apply to political appointees and those appointed by President Biden must agree to abide by the Biden Ethics Pledge.

In September, SEIU filed suit to challenge the NLRB’s “joint-employer” rule, which involves the ability of unions to organize employees of franchise operations. Members of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives sent a letter to NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran expressing concern about potential conflicts of interest posed by the participation of Members Wilcox and Prouty in the case. The Chair responded with a letter revealing the decision of the NLRB Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) to allow the members to participate but providing virtually no other details or explanation of the decision.

In a case that could directly affect hundreds of thousands of small businesses and the millions of people they employ, the American public deserves transparency in a decision that could have an enormous impact on the case. This is especially so in light of a recent decision in a similar matter, also involving the “joint-employer” rule and possible conflicts of interest of an NLRB member, that appears to run counter to the recommendation provided to Members Wilcox and Prouty. PPT filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the information to which the American public is entitled.

“For a decision with the potential to have such profound effects on the lives and livelihoods of so many Americans, the American public deserves a level of transparency the NLRB chair has thus far not provided,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “It’s inconceivable that the DAEO did not give much more thought and consideration to the decision than that revealed in the Chair’s response to the Congressional letter. The NLRB should make available the communications and other records involved in the decision-making process to assure the American public the decision was given the complete and thorough consideration it deserved.”

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Watchdog Investigates Possible Illegal Lobbying at DOT

Records request aims to determine if officials violated anti-lobbying laws

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust began an investigation into official communications by the Department of Transportation that may have violated federal laws. In order to protect taxpayers and the interests of the American public, Congress has enacted laws banning certain lobbying activities by federal agencies and officials.
 
The probe by Protect the Public’s Trust, begun via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, revolves around a social media post from an official U.S. Department of Transportation account that endorses the Build Back Better Act. This proposed legislation, which has been intensely debated for months, passed the House of Representatives less than two weeks ago and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. Press reports indicate Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has expressed his intention to hold a vote on the proposal before Christmas. Because of the Majority Leader’s urgency for a vote on the bill, PPT is requesting that DOT expedite the processing of our FOIA request. Individuals involved in approving and/or publishing the meme may have acted in violation of the law.

“The prohibitions against lobbying on pending legislation by Executive Branch agencies and officials exist to protect the American public from having their hard-earned tax dollars spent on propaganda,” declared Protect the Public’s Trust Director, Michael Chamberlain. “When DOT uses a government social media account with more than a quarter-million followers to promote a controversial bill, possibly in violation of the law, the public deserves to know whether the actions were consistent with the law and who authorized the activity. Protect the Public’s Trust will investigate this episode and shed light on conduct that may be prohibited under the law.”

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