A high-ranking Environmental Protection Agency political appointee received approval to maintain his professional relationship with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology while serving in the Biden administration, according to documents obtained by a watchdog group.
EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Science Policy Dr. Christopher Frey disclosed in his May 11 ethics recusal statement that he had taken a two-year unpaid leave of absence from Hong Kong University following advice by the agency’s Office of General Counsel, records obtained by the watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) show. The ex officio chancellor of the university, Carrie Lam, is also Beijing’s hand-picked bureaucrat to serve as the chief executive of Hong Kong.
“It is difficult to argue that Dr. Frey’s employer is anything short of an arm of the Chinese government,” PPT said in a press release Tuesday. “One can presume from the leave that he plans to return to his employment with the Chinese government upon completing his tenure at EPA.”
Frey’s association with Hong Kong University was not disclosed when President Joe Biden appointed him to his EPA post in early February, nor is it included in his bio on the agency’s website.
Frey does disclose his work with Hong Kong University as a visiting professor in the environment and sustainability division in his LinkedIn profile, however, his profile states his employment with the university ended in January.
PPT noted that any meaningful distinction between mainland China and Hong Kong has all but evaporated since the passage of a national security law in 2020 that criminalizes dissent in the city against the Chinese government. (RELATED: China Officially Votes To Revoke Hong Kong’s Autonomy On National Security Affairs)
PPT added that the Department of Justice issued a memorandum opinion in 1994 finding that foreign public universities are “presumptively foreign states under the Emoluments Clause” unless the university can be shown to be making faculty employment decisions independently of its foreign controller.
“The American public needs answers to a number of legal, Constitutional and national security questions regarding the decision of EPA to allow Dr. Frey to continue a relationship with an arm of the Chinese government,” PPT Director Michael Chamberlain said. “It’s generally expected that political appointees completely break ties with private entities and foreign governments in order to serve the American public. The documents provided shed little light on who, how and why Dr. Frey was allowed to continue this foreign association.”
“The lack of transparency is flabbergasting, especially in light of the Biden Administration’s claims to be the most ethical administration in history,” Chamberlain said. “PPT will continue to investigate until we get some answers.”
Chamberlain said it was not uncommon for professors to take leaves of absence from domestic universities to work in government, but not so for foreign universities.
“Examples of a professor taking a leave from an adjunct post in a hostile nation are a lot harder to find,” Chamberlain told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Most political appointments require American citizenship. Plus, it’s customary for those entering government service to be required to divest, resign or otherwise sever ties with all private and/or foreign entities.”
The EPA did not return a request for comment.
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