A Republican-run public affairs firm is backing out of its contract with U.S. EPA to track the agency’s press coverage.
Joe Pounder, president of Definers Corp., said in a statement to E&E News that his firm’s no-bid $120,000 contract with EPA had become "a distraction" and both Definers and EPA decided to part ways.
"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. But it’s become clear this will become a distraction. As a result, Definers and the EPA have decided to forgo the contract," Pounder said.
An EPA spokesman confirmed the agency will not go forward with its contract with Definers.
"How we consume our news has changed, and we hope to find a vendor that can provide us with real-time news clips at a rate that is cheaper than our previous vendor," spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
Definers’ contract for media monitoring with EPA attracted swift backlash. The Arlington, Va.-based company founded and run by GOP political operatives was tied to other groups that had taken an interest in EPA before the contract was signed.
America Rising LLC, a Republican opposition research firm where Definers executives also work, has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for emails of EPA union officials and employees who have been critical of the Trump administration.
In addition, the Need To Know Network, which Pounder founded, has provided positive coverage of Pruitt while taking aim at his critics as a news website.
In an interview with E&E News last week, Pounder stressed that neither group was involved in the EPA contract.
"The only services we will be providing will be media monitoring," Pounder said (Greenwire, Dec. 15).
Nevertheless, Definers’ ties to both groups came under increasing scrutiny from the press, with reports in The New York Times and Mother Jones highlighting those links.
Several had already either protested the contract with the Government Accountability Office or called for an investigation by the EPA inspector general of the agreement. In a letter sent today to Administrator Scott Pruitt, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) called on the EPA chief to end the contract.
"At a minimum, it presents an appearance of impropriety to which you as Administrator should never be a party. For the reasons that follow, you should terminate this contract immediately," said the senators.
It appears Definers won’t be doing any other business with the federal government, let alone EPA. In his statement, Pounder said his firm will no longer work with agencies in the future.
"We look forward to continuing to provide our cutting-edge Console war room products to our corporate clients but will no longer work with federal government clients," Pounder said.