EPA Advisory Board Chair Pressured to Change Congressional Testimony

The chair of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Board of Scientific Counselors, Deborah Swackhamer, was reportedly pressured to downplay the Trump administration's decision not to reappoint half of the board's members at a Congressional hearing on May 23, 2017. Emails show that EPA Chief of Staff, Ryan Jackson, asked Swackhamer to change her Congressional testimony to reflect the agency's position that a decision on appointments had not yet been made. In her testimony, Swackhamer correctly noted that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did not renew half of the board’s eighteen executive committee members for second terms, and that an agency spokesman had called for more industry representation on the board. Jackson claimed that statement was inaccurate. The day before the hearing, he sent Swackhamer a page of official talking points meant to counter “stories in the newspapers” about the appointments and emphasized that a decision on appointments “has not yet been made,” with that phrase underlined for emphasis. 


On June 26, 2017, Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, Suzanne Bonamici, and Donald S. Beyer Jr. wrote to the EPA's Office of Inspector-General (OIG) to express "deep concern" regarding Jackson's conduct. The representatives asked the Office of Inspector-General to commence an investigation to determine whether "Jackson or any other EPA officials attempt[ed] to interfere with" Swackhamer's testimony and whether they are "in violation of any federal regulations or laws as a result."

On October 29, 2019, EPA's acting inspector general, Charles J. Sheehan, sent EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler a "seven day letter" indicating that Jackson had refused to cooperate with the OIG's investigation and provide needed information. Sheehan described Jackson's conduct as a "flagrant problem" and declared that, without access to information, the OIG "cannot fulfill [its] congressional charter and produce work of the rigor and quality expected by the American public." A copy of the letter was also sent to the congressional committee that oversees EPA.

On December 10, 2019, the OIG released a report indicating that Jackson's refusal to provide necessary information prevented it from completing its investigation. The report further stated that, by refusing to provide the information, Jackson "is not complying with the Inspector General Act and the [EPA] Administrator's memorandum on cooperating with the OIG."