Charles S. Clark | October 6, 2017 | 0 Comments

EPA Watchdog Widens Probe of Pruitt’s Travel Expenses

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a Cabinet meeting on June 12. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt attends a Cabinet meeting on June 12. Andrew Harnik/AP

In the latest wrinkle in the Trump Cabinet’s travel travails, the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced a widening of the six-week-old probe into EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded air travel.

In an Oct. 5 letter to all top EPA officials, including Pruitt, John Trefry, director of forensic audits at the EPA IG, wrote that “the scope of our review is expanded to include all travel by the administrator through September 30, 2017.”

The original review, launched in late August after complaints from Democratic lawmakers and environmental activists, focused on Pruitt’s early trips through July 31 to his home-state of Oklahoma, where he frequently met with oil and gas interests.

The research will examine the “frequency, cost and extent” of Pruitt’s travels as well as “adherence to policies, procedures and oversight control” by Pruitt and his staff, advance teams and security personnel. In the letter addressed to David Bloom, acting chief financial officer, Trefry said he will supervise the review, while Angela Bennett will serve as project manager.

The examination of documents and interviews with management—including EPA’s Cincinnati Finance Center—will determine “whether EPA policies and procedures are sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and abuse with the administrator’s travel,” the letter added. “The anticipated benefits of this project are to improve operational efficiency.”

The IG will provide updates to staff via monthly meetings, email, phone or video conferences.

The original probe was begun in late August partly in response to separate written requests from Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. (on July 28), and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. (on Aug. 4), who pointed to EPA documents released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws.

The documents showed that Pruitt “spent almost half of his days this spring in Oklahoma or on trips that included stops in his home state,” the nonprofit said in a Monday release. “The airfare for these trips cost taxpayers more than $12,000.”

Agency records show Pruitt traveled a total of 48 out of 92 days in March, April and May. Of those days, 43 were spent in Oklahoma or heading to or from the state. Pruitt’s travel pace was double that of his Obama administration predecessor, Gina McCarthy, The New York Times reported. McCarthy paid for her own flights home.

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