John Konkus, a top public affairs officer at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is working on the side as a media consultant. The EPA not only doesn't have a problem with that, but won't even say who his clients are.
"Do Konkus' clients include companies or industries regulated by EPA?" asked EWG President Ken Cook. "We don't know, because both the agency and Konkus refused to answer. Does he have his own media consultant who will talk?"
On Monday, Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee released a letter from the EPA Office of General Counsel, showing that Konkus, EPA's deputy associate administrator for public affairs, got approval to moonlight for "two likely clients," whose names were redacted. EPA wouldn't reveal their names, and when reporters from E&E News called Konkus on his cell phone, he said: "I'm not going to be talking to you, thanks," before hanging up.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Konkus is responsible for a wide range of public affairs, media relations and other duties in his senior executive role at EPA where he draws an annual salary of $145,000. Among them are managing the EPA's digital, web and social media communications, and writing and editing press statements and op-eds. He is also responsible for staging events featuring Administrator Scott Pruitt.
Last year, The Washington Post reported that Pruitt put Konkus, a former Florida political operative, in charge of reviewing and approving millions of dollars in grants prior to being awarded by EPA.
Monday, four members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Pruitt requesting "additional information regarding appointees engaged in outside activity for compensation."
"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 lawmakers wrote.
"What will the EPA ethics czars approve with the next spin of their moral compass?" asked EWG's Cook. "A little moonlighting for Scott Pruitt to lobby for the coal and chemical industries? Konkus could be counseling Pruitt on EPA business by day and providing strategic advice to industry at night. This could only happen in the Trump administration, where commitment to public service is as foreign and irrelevant as ethical behavior."