A USDA spokesman dismissed ethics concerns raised in a New York Times article about a meeting the head of the department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force had in May with members of the Southern Crop Production Association (SCPA), a CropLife America affiliate, and Kellie Bray, CLA's senior director of government affairs. Rebeckah Adcock, the USDA official, was a lobbyist for CropLife before she came to USDA this spring. The Times noted that in her ethics agreement, Adock agreed that for a year starting April 21, 2017, "I will not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter involving specific parties in which I know CropLife America is a party or represents a party" unless authorized to do so. USDA spokesman Tim Murtaugh said of the meeting, “When any participant brought up an issue precluded by Ms. Adcock’s ethics agreement, she politely and firmly instructed them it was not a matter she could discuss or assist with.” And CropLife America CEO Jay Vroom, echoing what Bray told the Times, said Bray did not speak at the meeting. Murtaugh also said ethics officers at USDA advised Adcock that Obama administration guidance applies. The 2009 Office of Government Ethics (OGE) guidance says of meeting with officials from former employers, “Such meetings do not have to be open to every comer, but should include a multiplicity of parties. For example, if an agency is holding a meeting with five or more stakeholders regarding a given policy or piece of legislation, an appointee could attend such a meeting even if one of the stakeholders is a former employer or former client.” Five SCPA members were at the meeting. The head of the OGE under President Obama told the Times that the provision cited by Murtaugh “did not apply to the ethics regulation in Ms. Adcock’s agreement,” according to the newspaper.
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