President George Bush has vowed to bring a breath of ethical fresh air to the White House, but it appears there is a cloud hanging over the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA has a little pollution problem of its own in the form of consultants who are working both sides of the street, especially in the agency's Superfund cleanup program.Last week, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment released a report showing that the EPA routinely hires consultants on projects who, at the same time, are on the payroll of companies that may be targeted for EPA-ordered action.
J. Winston Porter, who heads the Superfund program, defended the action saying the consultants are forbidden to work for the private company involved with that specific assignment. He also said, forcing consultants to choose between the government and the private companies would leave the poorer-paying EPA at a distinct disadvantage.
Congressional investigators see it quite differently, saying the EPA often pays consultants two to five times more for a job than would be paid for a similar project in the private sector.
Perhaps forcing consultants to choose sides is the solution to a growing ethics problem.
Making it more difficult to work both sides of the street may just be the needle the EPA needs to take the air out of the consulting balloon and bring it back to earth.