Watchdog: Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt had $124K in excessive airfare expenses
May 16 (UPI) — Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt spent nearly $124,000 in excessive airfare expenses without proper justification during a 10-month period while working for the Trump administration, the EPA Inspector General’s office said Thursday.
The watchdog analyzed 40 trips — six of which were canceled but still incurred expenses — between March 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2017, which came to about $985,000. Of that, $124,000 was in first- and business-class travel that was deemed excessive in the OIG report.
“The EPA’s management of its travel program has been a persistent area of concern for the Office of Inspector General,” Deputy Inspector General Charles Sheehan said in a news release. “In this most recent report, the OIG found, among other lapses, that funds were spent without sufficient justification on first- and business-class travel for former Administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff.
“If the agency’s internal controls over travel aren’t strengthened, abuses may continue to occur at great cost to EPA programs and taxpayers.”
The OIG found that the EPA’s travel policies lacked a clear delegation of authority for approving Pruitt’s travel, though that problem has since been resolved. The agency also said EPA employees sometimes used non-contract air carriers without justification.
The OIG said the EPA failed to maintain sufficient information to ensure the agency didn’t incur additional costs by making stops in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Okla. The agency also improperly approved business-class travel for protective service detail agents.
Lodging costs were also a concern. In one case, Pruitt and his security detail agent each charged $669 per night at a hotel in New York City, more than twice the EPA’s per diem hotel rate of $301 per night. Other EPA agents staying at the same hotel were charged $389 a night.
In April 2018, the EPA OIG opened a review into allegations of ethical missteps, including a lease Pruitt signed to rent a room on Capitol Hill for $50 a night.
The OIG said it also would look into whether employees who attempted to raise red flags about Pruitt’s spending were sidelined or demoted.
In 2018, the independent Government Accountability Office said Pruitt’s agency broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth without first notifying Congress. The watchdog said the booth qualifies as a furnishing. Under federal law, the EPA is required to notify Senate and House appropriations committees in advance of purchasing any furnishing that costs taxpayers more than $5,000.