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Senior EPA press official has a side job as an outside media consultant

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt answers questions from reporters during a daily briefing at the White House in June.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Two senior Environmental Protection Agency political appointees — including one who personally supervises every grant the agency awards to or solicits from outside groups — got approval from the agency’s ethics office to continue to collect outside income while working for the Trump administration.

Letters from the EPA’s office of general counsel, which were released Monday by Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, show that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s special assistant Patrick Davis and the deputy associate administrator for the office of public affairs, John Konkus, sought permission to work for private clients even as they occupied full-time federal jobs.

Davis asked to work “as the sales director of Telephone Town Hall Meeting,” according to a Feb. 3 letter from Justina Fugh, the EPA’s alternate designated agency ethics official, while the clients Konkus is consulting for were not made publicly available. Instead, Fugh’s Aug. 1 letter to Konkus states that he wanted “to take on clients to advise about strategy, mail and media production”: It mentions two “likely clients,” whose names are redacted, adding that he anticipated “getting more clients in the next six months.”

Both officials were instructed that their outside annual income could not exceed $27,765 and that they could not participate in “any matter that will have a direct and predictable financial effect upon your outside” employer or clients.

Davis, who makes about $135,000 a year in his job as a senior adviser for public engagement to the regional administrator in the EPA’s Denver office, also owns a Republican political consulting firm based in Colorado Springs. He was also given permission to “solicit prospective clients” in his spare time, provided that he did not use agency resources.

A Monday letter signed by the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), and fellow Democrats Diana DeGette (Colo.), Kathy Castor (Fla.) and Paul Tonko (N.Y.), asks Pruitt to provide greater disclosure about which of the agency’s top officials are earning outside income and to address the “potential conflicts of interests” that could arise from such arrangements.

In an email, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman noted that both officials had gone through regular channels to gain approval for maintaining businesses on the side. “As the letter states, EPA career ethics approvals have reviewed and approved these opportunities,” Bowman said.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that Konkus had started vetting the hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that the EPA distributes each year, singling out awards that either highlighted climate change or supported priorities that he viewed as conflicting with those of the administration. Konkus canceled close to $2 million competitively awarded grants to universities and nonprofit organizations, though the EPA reversed course last week and restored $325,000 in funding to the Bay Journal, a print publication that covers Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay.

“A political appointee cutting millions of dollars in funding to EPA grant recipients on what appears to be a politically motivated basis, while at the same time being authorized to serve as a paid media consultant to unnamed outside clients, raises serious concerns of potential conflicts of interest,” the four Democrats wrote.

Konkus, who makes about $145,000 a year, declined a request for comment. A longtime GOP operative in Florida, he served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Leon County, home to Tallahassee. He later joined the “beachhead” team at the EPA and helped handle communications work during the confirmation process for Pruitt. Previously, he spent several years as a vice president for political consulting firm Jamestown Associates.

On his LinkedIn profile, Konkus describes himself as an “executive-level manager, top strategist, and expert communicator.”

The letter asks Pruitt to provide by March 19 a list of all EPA political appointees who have received approval to engage in a paid outside activity, a nonredacted copy of any memo of approval authorizing any outside activity, and a nonredacted list naming and describing each authorized outside client.

Read more:

EPA political appointee now signs off on agency grants

Under pressure from Senate Democrats, Pruitt restores funding to Bay Journal

How Scott Pruitt turned EPA into one of Trump’s most powerful tools