When presidential-appointed employees like the EPA’s Shawn Garvin assumed their positions, they knew their jobs would end at noon this Friday. That’s how many presidential appointments work.
“At the end of the day,” said Garvin, who is based in Philly, “you know what you sign up for. I’m appointed by President Obama, and that’s who I serve.”
What they didn’t expect, like much of the country, was the man picking their eventual successors would be Donald Trump and the possible impact his decisions could have on the nation and Philadelphia as well.
Though Philly pales in comparison to Washington, D.C. in terms of presidential appointees, it contains a handful working at the regional level. People like Garvin, administrator for the EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, and former U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, who resigned in November. Leaders in other Philadelphia positions like regional branches of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Marshals and the General Services Administration often resign and will eventually get replaced by whomever Trump or his cabinet leaders choose.
Exactly how Trump’s administration will make these choices and how much it will rely on local input is unclear. Usually, state leaders of the president’s party have clout in suggesting candidates. Rob Gleason, outgoing chair of the Pennsylvania GOP, declined to comment for this article. Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s office did not respond to an interview request.
Though the branches of federal administrations headquartered in Philly all affect the city, those like the EPA and U.S. Attorney’s Office are especially noticeable by the public.
Memeger’s stint of six and a half years was particularly noteworthy. Just ask Philadelphia politicians. The Eastern branch of the U.S. Attorney’s office tackled memorable corruption investigations in a city long used to them, with Memeger leading an office that brought down Congressman Chaka Fattah and the infamous traffic court. He also brought charges against six Philly narcotics officers, though they were later acquitted.
When Memeger resigned, Attorney General Loretta Lynch commended him for his work with prisoner reentry programs. He also did community work in North Philadelphia and routinely spoke about the need for improved community-police relations.
“Crime is a complex issue and we’re not going to be able to arrest our way out of the problem,” Memeger said in an interview with the Philadelphia Bar in 2011. “We need to take a larger and more comprehensive approach to law enforcement.”
Trump’s pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has mostly blocked sentencing reform and condemned federal investigations of local police departments — policies that would likely filter down to local levels.
The same could be true with priorities of the Regional EPA, which worked in concert with the city officials and regional offices of Housing and Urban Development on multiple sustainability projects. Garvin said under the Obama Administration two of the regional office’s main priorities were water protection and increasing green infrastructure. In Philadelphia, the Regional EPA teamed with City Hall to come up with Green City, Clean Waters, a program that sought to improve the collection of stormwater in Philly. He gave Dilworth Park as an example of the city getting greener and fulfilling water-collecting goals.
The EPA appears primed to change under Trump. The president-elect has denied the concept of climate change, and his pick to lead the national EPA office is Scott Pruitt, who has sued the EPA multiple times. But Garvin said the agency has historically been built “on sound science and the basis of law” and envisions the full-time employees carrying out statutes and regulations in a manner consistent with what has previously been done.
“I fully see the agency continuing to … protect human health and the environment,” he said.
Before becoming an EPA administrator, Garvin worked as an aide for Joe Biden and as the senior state and congressional liaison for the mid-Atlantic region of the EPA. He is not yet sure what the future holds for him.
“Thankfully, we got two terms,” Garvin said, “and not one term.”