The Environmental Protection Agency canceled a contract Tuesday with a conservative media group after Democratic lawmakers suggested the outlet is being used to spy on agency employees.
EPA officials defended the $120,000 contract with Definers Public Affairs, that was hired for its media clipping service. The agency has since decided to terminate the contract – the decision comes shortly after activists called for probes targeting the agreement.
“Definers offered EPA a better and more efficient news clipping service that would give EPA’s employees real-time news at a lower cost than what previous administrations paid for more antiquated clipping services,” Joe Pound, the president of Definers, said in a press statement. “But it’s become clear this will become a distraction.”
The decision came shortly after the Environmental Working Group and American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog, demanded Monday the EPA inspector general to open an investigation into the contract. The agency countered reports other vendors were prevented from bidding on the media contract.
“In this case, one additional vendor responded with their qualifications and the media/news clips contract was awarded to Definers,” EPA spokeswoman Nancy Grantham said Friday. Agencies must document a sole-source contract on websites Fedconnect or Fedbizops, so other firms can provide evidence why they can provide a better service, she noted.
A lawyer affiliated with Definers and Republican consulting group, America Rising (AR), was also involved in filing public information requests against EPA employees who publicly criticized President Donald Trump’s administration.
AR made public information requests for the emails of three agency employees who communicated with congressional Democrats critical of the EPA. The targeted employees believe the EPA is orchestrating a type of fishing expedition against its critics.
Allan Blutstein, a lawyer and a top executive with AR and Definers, was responsible for preparing the Freedom of Information Act requests, that he called more of a “fishing expedition” than anything else.
The bulk of the emails submitted ask for correspondence between the employees and members of congress, such as Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, both of whom are vehement opponents of Trump’s climate policies.
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