EPA Official Permitted to Join Agency while Continuing Employment Relationship with Chinese Government

Heavily redacted documents raise legal, Constitutional and national security questions

Federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust is investigating a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) high-level political appointee’s ongoing employment relationship with the Chinese government. The official, Dr. Christopher Frey, has insisted on maintaining his adjunct faculty position with an instrument of the Chinese government while serving at EPA. The information was contained in heavily redacted documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by PPT.

The documents reveal EPA leadership authorized Dr. Frey, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Policy, to continue his affiliation with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in an unpaid status, despite the Department of Justice’s determination that such relationships are akin to working for a foreign government. Furthermore, the national security law passed last year in Hong Kong erased any meaningful distinction between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese authority. HKUST’s Ordinance and Statutes designate Beijing’s anointed Chief Executive of Hong Kong, a post currently held by Carrie Lam, as Chancellor of the University. It is difficult to argue that Dr. Frey’s employer is anything short of an arm of the Chinese government.

Rather than forcing Dr. Frey to sever ties with HKUST, EPA leadership permitted him to merely take a leave of absence and recuse himself from particular matters having a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the University. One can presume from the leave that he plans to return to his employment with the Chinese government upon completing his tenure at EPA. Dr. Frey’s relationship with HKUST, only made known via released FOIA documents, is not mentioned on his official EPA biography nor was it included in the announcement of his appointment to the Agency, further raising transparency and security concerns.

“The American public needs answers to a number of legal, Constitutional and national security questions regarding the decision of EPA to allow Dr. Frey to continue a relationship with an arm of the Chinese government,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “It’s generally expected that political appointees completely break ties with private entities and foreign governments in order to serve the American public. The documents provided shed little light on who, how and why Dr. Frey was allowed to continue this foreign association. The lack of transparency is flabbergasting, especially in light of the Biden Administration’s claims to be the most ethical administration in history. PPT will continue to investigate until we get some answers.”

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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

EPA leadership’s approval of Dr. Frey’s continued employment relationship with the Chinese government raises many questions:

  1. Will Dr. Frey participate in particular matters that involve the Chinese government’s climate obligations such as international climate agreements negotiated by the Biden Administration? 
  2. Has DOJ or the White House Counsel’s Office been consulted on whether the Emoluments Clause issues are satisfactorily resolved or dismissed, as they appear to be with the issuance of Frey’s recusal agreement?
  3. Is the EPA relying on the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act to enable Frey to continue being employed by an instrument of China?
  4. Records show that Frey was allowed to continue publishing journal manuscripts with students at NCSU under his faculty title. Is he also continuing to do so with Chinese students? Has the agency had that conversation and expressly prohibited him from doing so? 
  5. Will a security clearance be necessary for Frey’s role at EPA?
  6. Which senior political EPA officials granted Frey permission to continue as faculty member of an instrument of the Chinese government and also to continue publishing papers in his NCSU role? Is Administrator Regan aware or concerned with the potential national security, legal, and Constitutional implications of this continued engagement?