EPA chief looks to distinguish himself from Pruitt in agency-wide memo

Source: By Miranda Green, The Hill • Posted: Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday sent a staff-wide memo laying out steps the agency is taking to increase transparency, a move that’s seen as an effort to differentiate himself from his predecessor.

Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote in a memo, obtained by The Hill, that the EPA is reaffirming “a commitment to transparency” by making Wheeler’s appointment calendar easily available online and ensuring the agency is available to the press. He said the media “performs a vital role in informing the public about the EPA’s actions.”

“We exist to serve the public,” Wheeler wrote. “As such, the public should trust our work. We are committed to earning and maintaining the public’s trust through transparency and accountability in our actions and civility and fairness in our public participation processes.”

Since becoming acting administrator at the EPA, Wheeler has sought to distinguish himself from former Administrator Scott Pruitt by being a more approachable leader to both the press and policy staff. Portions of the memo mark a departure from the official policy of the EPA under Pruitt, who did not make his calendar public and frequently handpicked interviews and interactions with journalists.

Wheeler’s memo provides guidance to employees regarding how to talk to reporters and how to reference ongoing litigation.

“As we respond to press inquiries, EPA staff should respect our internal deliberative processes and strive for accuracy and integrity in our communications,” he said. “This will ultimately enhance public trust in the agency.”

Staff should coordinate with senior managers and the EPA’s Office of Public Affairs before responding to press inquiries, according to the memo. Employees were also told to consult first with EPA lawyers before responding to question about ongoing litigation.

“The EPA is constantly engaged in a wide range of litigation. The conduct of litigation by the EPA should reflect the principles of fairness and openness that apply to other EPA activities. We must, however, protect privileged litigation and enforcement-sensitive information from unauthorized disclosure,” the memo reads.

Other categories touched on include public transparency in EPA rulemaking proceedings and Freedom of Information Act requests, which he said will be addressed further in a future memo.