Watchdog Adds Three to Ethics Waiver Tracker

Number of EPA waivers already exceeds the quantity reportedly granted during the previous administration

Today, Protect the Public’s Trust added three more Executive Branch employees to the federal watchdog’s Ethics Waiver Tracker. Two political appointees at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and one at the Department of the Interior (DOI) were granted waivers allowing them to participate in matters involving their former employers that either federal ethics laws or the Biden Ethics Pledge would otherwise have barred them from participating.

Martha Williams, Principal Deputy Director at the DOI’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) received a waiver to the Biden Ethics Pledge concerning her former employer immediately prior to joining the Department, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA), a 501(c)(4) comprised of 24 states and Canadian provinces. The waiver allows Ms. Williams, who served as WAFWA’s Vice President and member of the Executive Committee, to “participate in specific party matters arising at FWS or the Department where WAFWA is a party or represents a party” as well as “meetings or communications where WAFWA is present.” She is still prohibited from participating in “matters where [she] previously participated personally and substantially as board member for WAFWA.”

EPA granted two appointees “impartiality determinations” with respect to their work for State governments – Principal Deputy Associate Administrator for Policy Philip Fine for California’s South Coast Air Quality Management Division and Deputy Associate Administrator for Intergovernmental Affairs Casey Katims for work in the Washington State Governor’s office. The Biden Ethics Pledge exempts State, local and Tribal governments from the definition of former employers but federal ethics laws do not contain such a carve out.

The impartiality determinations, also known as “502 waivers” because they relate to covered relationships under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502, permit Fine and Katims “to participate in new or future specific party matters that involve” their former employers “but not on the very same specific party matters on which [they] worked on personally and substantially while employed” at the relevant former employers.

The addition of these three waivers brings to 35 the total of waivers PPT has identified thus far in the Biden Administration, all but two of them in Executive Branch agencies. A similar project undertaken during the four years of the Trump Administration reported 49 waivers. Of those, 19 were granted to employees in the White House or Office of the Vice President with the remaining 30 for appointees in agencies. Including Fine and Katims’s waivers, EPA has granted five during the current administration. The agency awarded just three during the Trump administration, according to the contemporary waiver tracking project. Williams’s waiver is the second PPT has identified at the Department of the Interior. Reports indicate one waiver, regarding post-government employment, was granted at DOI during the previous administration.

“Waivers are designed to create exceptions to the ethics and conflict of interest rules that protect the interests of the American public and, thus, should be rare,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “When any administration or agency requests an excessive number of waivers it should give the public pause and it should be incumbent upon the agency to provide the transparency allowing the public to evaluate if its interests are being properly protected. PPT will continue to seek the transparency the American public deserves.”

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