The Environmental Protection Agency canceled its contract with a Republican opposition media firm it hired to track its media coverage amid reports that it was a no-bid contract, which sparked a storm of criticism from watchdog groups, other PR firms, and environmental groups.
Definers Public Affairs, the company that EPA contracted, said Tuesday that the agency and the company mutually decided that the deal had become too much of a "distraction" to continue.
Company President Joe Pounder said it will not pursue any other government contracts and instead will offer its media monitoring services and "war room" software to only corporate clients.
"Four other government agencies had expressed interest in having @definersdc bid for media monitoring services," Pounder tweeted. "We have decided to forgo that."
The decision to rescind the contract with EPA came after Ralph Nader's consumer group Public Citizen filed a formal "protest" over the contract on behalf of two public relations firms that said the no-bid contract should be canceled immediately over unfair bidding practices.
Public Citizen filed the complaint with the Government Accountability Office, the independent agency that tracks waste, fraud and abuse in the government, asking it to investigate the contract.
“We are seeking a finding that the contract was impermissibly awarded on a no-bid basis, and a recommendation that the Dec. 7 contract be rescinded and an open bidding process undertaken,” states the letter by Public Citizen to the Government Accountability Office.
Public Citizen wrote on behalf of Fenton Communications and New Heights Communications to protest the contract with Virginia-based Definers, which is a conservative PR firm with a reputation for going after Republican critics.
“This grant was awarded on a no-solicitation basis, even though the services sought are industry standard and could be performed by dozens of firms and organizations, including Fenton Communications and New Heights Communications,” the letter said.
The Environmental Working Group and American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog, asked the EPA inspector general on Monday to start an investigation into the award.
The contract was for $120,000 to track 24-hour media coverage.
The EPA had denied reports by the New York Times and Mother Jones that it was a no-bid contract, saying another firm was involved in the contract award bidding process.
The agency emphasized that the Definers' services cost more than $80,000 less than the EPA's previous provider of media tracking services.
“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,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Tuesday after the contract was canceled.
Austin Evers, executive director for American Oversight, said the cancellation was not "the end of this story."
"It’s more important now than ever for the EPA’s inspector general to get to the bottom of why a politically connected firm was given a no-bid contract at the taxpayer’s expense. The inspector general also needs to investigate whether Administrator Pruitt has used Definers and its associated organizations to further his own political agenda and investigate the career civil servants who work under him. Sadly, when it comes to Pruitt’s mismanagement of the EPA, this is just the tip of the iceberg.”