Earlier this week, the Trump administration placed the Environmental Protection Agency on a sort of communications lockdown and also reportedly froze all grants and contracts the agency maintains.
Former EPA transition lead Myron Ebell explained the freezes to ProPublica as necessary, “to make sure nothing happens they don’t want to have happen” regarding any regulations, hires, contracts and grants. The contract freeze and subsequent reduction in public outreach by EPA left states like Michigan—still reeling from the Flint water crisis—wondering whether federal aid money would continue to flow.
It’s also left industry worried and scratching its heads.
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On Thursday, part of the contracting community voiced “serious concerns” over the move, calling on EPA and the new administration to “share as much information publicly as possible” about the validity, rationale and duration of contract suspensions.
“There may be good reasons for these steps, to align with the priorities of the new administration or to prevent scarce taxpayer dollars from going to initiatives that will not be continued,” wrote David Berteau, president of the Professional Services Council, in a letter to EPA Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe and White House leadership. “However, a blunt, across the board halt on contracting actions will disrupt core government operations, drive away hard-to-find workers and may cost more to restart than it saves by stopping.”
The Professional Services Council, based in Arlington, Virginia, represents more than 400 defense and civilian contractors, many of which hold contracts with EPA.
Berteau said EPA ought to be mindful “of the adverse economic impact this will have on the business community,” reminding the administration many companies “depend on payments to stay in business.” In fiscal 2015, EPA had a budget of $8.1 billion and a workforce of more than 14,000, and it holds thousands of contracts to do everything from build IT systems to aid in disaster relief.
While Berteau said it might make sense to halt specific contracts, an across-the-board halt is likely to do more harm than good.
“Absent problems with specific contracts, we strongly recommend that these actions be of the shortest duration possible,” he said.