Amid new revelations about Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s frequent use of expensive, first-class air travel – which agency officials have admitted was intended to allow Pruitt to avoid interactions with Americans upset by the administrator’s actions – nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today called on the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the EPA Inspector General to open investigations into the potential misuse of taxpayer funds.
“It is the height of arrogance for Scott Pruitt to fire EPA employees in the name of saving money at the same time that he’s granting himself waivers to fly around the country in first class,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Scott Pruitt is free to spend his own money to avoid sitting next to the ‘deplorables’ in coach, but if he really considers talking with ordinary Americans to be a security threat, he probably shouldn’t be in public service. If members of Congress and other government employees fly coach every week without incident, Scott Pruitt can too.”
The Washington Post reported that Pruitt spent more than $1,600 on a single, first class flight from Washington, DC to New York City – a route where a coach ticket can often cost less than $100 – and that in the month of June 2017, travel expenses for the administrator and other EPA staff exceeded $90,000.
Pruitt’s excessive travel spending comes at a time when the Trump administration has been slashing funding to the EPA. The president’s 2019 budget calls for deep reductions in the EPA’s budget, cutting agency funding by 23 percent just a year after the administration proposed shrinking the agency’s workforce by 20 percent and eliminating 3,200 positions.
Federal law typically requires government officials to take only the least expensive coach flights available for their itineraries. After first claiming that Pruitt had been given a “blanket” waiver to fly first class for security reasons, the EPA later changed its story and suggested that Pruitt had been granted individual waivers for each first class flight.
According to travel records uncovered by American Oversight, when Small Business Administration head Linda McMahon travels on commercial flights she is reimbursed only for the coach fare, not the first class fare.
Pruitt’s calendars, which American Oversight obtained and published last year, also show the administrator’s preference for meeting with corporate executives and lobbyists rather than groups representing ordinary Americans.
In letters to the OSC on Friday, American Oversight called for the government watchdog to investigate whether EPA had violated government regulations in issuing waivers to Pruitt, whether Pruitt’s claims of a security risk from flying in coach were warranted, and why the EPA has refused to release records of the waivers that Pruitt sought or received. American Oversight also sent a similar letter to the EPA’s Inspector General calling for the agency to conduct its own, internal review of the matter.
This is not the first time that American Oversight has asked the OSC to investigate Pruitt’s travel. In July 2017, after news reports surfaced regarding Pruitt’s frequent travel to his home state of Oklahoma, American Oversight called for OSC to determine whether Pruitt was using taxpayer funds to travel home in support of his widely-rumored political ambition to run for statewide office.
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