Politics

EPA Watchdog to Step Down as Scott Pruitt Probes Continue

Arthur Elkins had contradicted the former administrator’s account of his security detail

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies during a hearing in May. The inspector general who led multiple investigations of his spending habits is retiring this fall. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The EPA’s inspector general, who led multiple investigations into former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and management practices at the agency, will leave in October, his office announced Tuesday.

Arthur A. Elkins Jr., who has been EPA inspector general since 2010, said in a news release that he will retire on Oct. 12, but did not indicate whether his departure is related to issues at the agency. Before becoming inspector general, Elkins worked as associate general counsel in the EPA’s Office of General Counsel.

Elkins has overseen nearly a dozen investigations into several allegations surrounding Pruitt’s ethical and spending habits at the agency, at times contradicting the then administrator. Some of the probes remain underway.

“The IG is retiring because he has accepted a position outside the federal government,” Jeffrey Lagda, a spokesman for the EPA OIG, said in an email. “His departure on Oct 12 will absolutely not have an impact on any of the OIG’s ongoing reviews related to former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.” He did not identify Elkins’ new employer.

In May, while Pruitt was battling questions about his alleged exorbitant spending of taxpayer dollars on round-the-clock security, Elkins wrote to lawmakers saying his office had not signed off on the security detail used by the administrator.

While appearing just days earlier before the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the House Appropriations Interior-Environment subcommittee, Pruitt had cited a report from Elkins’ office to explain and justify his use of the 24-hour security detail that also followed him on personal travel to the Rose Bowl and Disneyland.

Pruitt’s office had said the level of security was necessary after a determination that the administrator faced an increased level of threats from the public, including at airports and on social media.

But Elkins wrote that the round-the-clock security for Pruitt had been requested on Pruitt’s first day at the agency and his office had had no hand in that decision.

More recently, on Sept. 4, the OIG found that the EPA spent $3.5 million on Pruitt’s security in the first 11 months at the agency compared to $1.6 for his predecessor for the same period. Pruitt resigned from the agency in July as the OIG and congressional probes of his activities continued. 

Democratic lawmakers can be expected to insist that the probes be followed to their conclusion.

“It is crucial that whoever fills this role continues the critical investigations surrounding former Administrator Scott Pruitt’s brazen abuse of his official position and taxpayer-funded resources at the agency for personal gain and enrichment,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in an email. “The person holding the title of Inspector General may change, but the need to get the American people the answers they deserve is the same.”

A spokesman for Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso said the Wyoming Republican believes that the inspector general plays a critically important role at the agency.

“Once the president has nominated a candidate, the Chairman would like to see the Senate consider the nomination quickly,” the aide said in an email.

Deputy Inspector General Charles Sheehan will replace Elkins in an acting role until a replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

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