White House to EPA Employees: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear

EPA’s contract freeze has thawed.

A senior White House adviser reached out to employees at the Environmental Protection Agency to assuage some of their fears that have arisen from new directives, warning that not all reports are accurate.

Don Benton thanked the “many career professionals” at EPA in an email sent to employees obtained by Government Executive, noting political transitions are “never easy.” He said the agency has fallen under a media microscope, and some of the reports have even caught him off guard.

“I, like many of you, am surprised each morning by what I read in the newspaper and see on TV news shows, because much of what we see is just not accurate,” said Benton, who serves as the top liaison between the White House and the EPA. Some of those reports, he said, were attributed to individuals no longer associated with the administration and he cannot speak to their veracity.

“I cannot tell you today what the final decisions from the White House, from our new administrator, and from the Congress will be,” he said. “I can tell you that despite what you read and see on TV, no final decisions have been made with regard to the EPA.”

Changes are coming, he said, promising to work with the EPA to implement them.

“One thing I am certain of is that the transition team is committed to working with you to carry out the core mission of the EPA -- to protect human health and the environment,” he said. 

One change that was already implemented at EPA was a freeze on contracts and grants. That freeze has ended, according to another email from acting Administrator Catherine McCabe, also obtained by Government Executive.

“As of today, we have completed review of our grant programs,” McCabe said. “All grants are proceeding normally, and nothing has been delayed.”

McCabe thanked employees for their support and dedication throughout the transition process, which she admitted had, at times, been bumpy.

“I realize that you may be feeling anxious about the uncertainty of these changes and that many of you have questions,” she said, promising to provide updates as soon as she had them.

In addition to the contract and grant freeze, EPA has instituted a moratorium on external communications and suggested some reports may be subject to higher levels of review. Larry Starfield, EPA’s acting assistant administrator, said that did not equate to a hold on enforcement actions. Starfield said certain matters are normally elevated to a higher level for review, regardless of timing. He confirmed the Trump administration asked for certain matters to be elevated so senior leadership is aware of them, but said that would not cause undue delay.