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Obama nominee for EPA deputy position withdraws

March 25, 2009 |  3:32 pm

ObamajacksonChalk up another casualty in the Obama administration's attempts to staff federal agencies.

Jon Cannon, nominated to be the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, pulled his name from consideration today, citing questions over a nonprofit of which he once served as a board member -- and which EPA auditors accused in 2007 of mismanaging $25 million in taxpayer funds.

Cannon sat on the board of America's Clean Water Foundation, a now-dissolved nonprofit, which won some $25 million in federal contracts to identify environmental risks at beef, poultry and pork plants, and to help states and tribes comply with the Clean Water Act. EPA auditors questioned the accounting of almost all that money, charging that the group could not support some costs, included duplicate transactions on others, and did not complete several required audits. The Office of Inspector General report, which does not mention Cannon, also alludes to allegations of embezzlement in the foundation.

Senate Republicans apparently raised the report, which appears on the first screen of a Google search on the foundation's name, in questioning Cannon, but they said Wednesday the questions would not have affected his nomination.

The bigger issue, for a young administration that has faced many questions on its vetting process, is whether Team Obama knew about the report, and if so, how much it cared about it.

The EPA released this statement from Cannon:

"Today I am voluntarily removing my name from consideration to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. It has come to my attention that America's Clean Water Foundation, where I once served on the board of directors, has become the subject of scrutiny. While my service on the board of that now-dissolved organization is not the subject of the scrutiny, I believe the energy and environmental challenges facing our nation are too great to delay confirmation for this position, and I do not wish to present any distraction to the agency."

And this, from EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson:

"I'm disappointed that Jon Cannon will be unable to serve as Deputy Administrator, and I thank him for his many years of dedication to the EPA. The administration will move quickly to identify a new candidate who can help us carry out our mission to preserve environmental sustainability and create green jobs as we transition the nation to a clean energy economy."

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works committee, released this statement:

"We were surprised to learn today about Jon Cannon's decision to remove his name from consideration to be Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

"At a recent staff meeting, as part of the normal oversight process for nominees, Inhofe committee staff questioned Mr. Cannon regarding an EPA Inspector General report on America's Clean Water Foundation, on which Mr. Cannon served as a board member. According to the report, the organization mismanaged $25 million in taxpayer-funded grants. Through his leadership position on the EPW Committee, Senator Inhofe has long made EPA grant oversight a priority.

"I want to make clear, however, that at the meeting Inhofe staff expressed to Cannon that, though the organization committed serious missteps in managing federal grants, it did not warrant opposition to Mr. Cannon's nomination."

-- Jim Tankersley

Photo: President Obama flanked by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in January. Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images