Sen. Duckworth calls for oversight on EPA hiring

Illinois senator joins Delaware’s Carper in demanding hiring reforms at the Environmental Protection Agency

Sen. Tammy Duckworth is calling for more congressional oversight on hiring and preferential raises given at the EPA. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Sen. Tammy Duckworth is calling for more congressional oversight on hiring and preferential raises given at the EPA. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

The state’s junior U.S. senator is calling for oversight on hiring at the Environmental Protection Agency as well as preferential raises given to staff.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth joined her colleague Tom Carper of Delaware in resubmitting legislation Tuesday that would require the EPA to report to Congress on special hiring allowed under the Safe Drinking Water Act. According to Duckworth’s office, that act allows the EPA administrator to hire 30 people “without regard to civil-service laws.”

It was originally intended to ease the hiring of experts on water quality. Yet critics, including Duckworth and Carper, charged that the special hiring was abused by previous EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. According to a news release put out Tuesday by Duckworth, Pruitt would “secretly reward his top aides with dramatic salary raises over White House objections.” He also used the act’s special hiring provision “to hire ex-lobbyists,” known to be in opposition to the EPA’s mission on pollution controls and other environmental measures.

“The Trump Administration has abused this authority far too many times,” Duckworth said in a statement. “This bill will help restore the public’s trust in the EPA and encourage government transparency and accountability.”

“Among the many scandals that defined Scott Pruitt’s tenure at EPA were his efforts to evade proper channels so he could provide ridiculous pay raises to favored staff,” charged Carper in a statement. “Mr. Pruitt set a dangerous precedent by abusing a provision designed to help EPA bring in outside experts to advance the agency’s mission of protecting public health and environmental quality.”

Duckworth and Carper originally sponsored the legislation last May, amid reports of Pruitt’s hiring practices and giving preferential raises to staff. Pruitt has since left the Trump administration, and has been replaced by Andrew Wheeler. Wheeler and Duckworth have clashed over the “cancer cluster” found surrounding the Sterigenics facilities in Willowbrook given their use of ethylene oxide, a known carcinogen, although her office took pains to point out Wheeler has agreed to “work with Duckworth” on the new oversight legislation.

Duckworth said, “I look forward to working with Sen. Carper to pass this bill and prevent any future EPA administrator from following Scott Pruitt’s playbook and abusing this loophole.”

“As both the agency and the American people recover from Mr. Pruitt’s repeated violations of public trust,” Carper added, “this bill will help to ensure that future EPA administrators — regardless of party — use this special hiring authority responsibly and transparently.”