As questions about the official travel habits of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt mount, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is demanding documents and other information on his first-class flights, as it looks into whether federal laws were broken.
Pruitt has for several months been under fire for incurring high travel costs at taxpayer expense. After recent news reports of Pruitt’s use of expensive first-class flights and stays at luxury hotels, an EPA spokesman said the administrator had been given a “blanket waiver” to fly first class for security reasons.
Although the EPA spokesman has since walked back the “blanket waiver” assertion and said waivers were requested for every first- or business-class trip, lawmakers are seeking more answers.
“Federal regulations require government travelers to obtain approval or authorization from their agency to use accommodations other than coach-class when traveling on official business,” House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy wrote Tuesday in a letter to Pruitt that the committee released Wednesday. “Clearly federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs.”
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The South Carolina Republican wants the EPA to submit information regarding any flights taken by Pruitt on official business since February 2017, including the reasons for travel, costs of the tickets, lists of any agency employees who accompanied him, as well as documents on waivers given. The panel wants the information by March 6.
An EPA spokesperson would not comment on specific questions about the travel allegations, saying instead in an email that the agency will “respond through the proper channels.”
House Energy and Commerce Democrats, led by ranking member Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, wrote to Pruitt with similar demands Tuesday.
“To date, your agency has failed to provide a clear explanation as to whether your travel since becoming administrator complies with all applicable federal regulations and agency procedures,” the Democrats wrote. “Americans deserve an EPA administrator dedicated to first class protection of human health and the environment than to luxury travel at taxpayer expense.”
The increased scrutiny comes as the EPA’s Office of Inspector General is already investigating Pruitt’s other travel expenses. The EPA OIG said in October it was opening an investigation after news reports that Pruitt had taken frequent and costly trips on private and military jets at taxpayer expense.
Other Trump administration officials have come under scrutiny or are being investigated by their agency watchdogs for possible travel violations, including former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was forced to resign in September; Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for exorbitant travel expenses that included the use of private jets; and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, who has been under fire after a staff member was found to have doctored an email to explain why the government paid for his wife’s flight to join him on a European trip.