Mr. Pruitt: Start Thinking About American Taxpayers

EPA Administrator - Scott PruittMr. Pruitt: Start Thinking About American TaxpayersIf this administration wants to make good on its promise of draining the swamp, Mr. Pruitt’s actions should be a red flag.

Energy & Natural Resources,  | Quick Take
Apr 7, 2018  | By  | 6 min read | Print Article

The headlines surrounding the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, all point to one conclusion:

Mr. Pruitt is not thinking about the interests of the taxpayers when he makes decisions about how he conducts his day-to-day operations.

From outlandish travel expenses, to out-of-line pay raises for staffers who are also friends, and exorbitant costs to accommodate his unusual concern that his conversations in his private office may be overheard, the former Attorney General of Oklahoma has proven he cannot be trusted with access to the taxpayer purse.

Let’s start by looking at the decisions Mr. Pruitt has made about travel.

We first called attention to his improper travel expenses back in September, when Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s abuse of taxpayer funds came to light. At the time, travel records indicated that in the 92 days comprising March, April and May of 2017, Mr. Pruitt spent 42 days in Oklahoma, almost all at the taxpayers’ expense.

Then in December, Mr. Pruitt and a handful of aides took a 5 day, $40,000 trip to Morocco including a two-day layover in Paris. His agenda in Morocco included promoting exports of liquefied natural gas, a job properly left to the Secretary of Commerce or Energy.

He routinely takes first class flights in the name of security. His defense of this practice relates to security issues resulting from the “politically toxic environment.” I don’t envy Mr. Pruitt facing angry and rude fellow passengers, but nor do I think my tax dollars should go to shielding him from unpleasant conversations, which come with the territory of public service. I’m sure plenty of lawmakers face tough questions from their fellow passengers in coach — and they do so without the benefit of a security detail like Pruitt’s.

Speaking of security, Mr. Pruitt’s decisions in this area also indicate a contempt for the taxpayers and the public.

At Mr. Pruitt’s request, he has received a 24 hours a day, seven days a week security detail, in contrast to the door-to-door security most cabinet members (and all prior EPA administrators) have received. The difference in price for taxpayers is significant — the Associated Press has reported Mr. Pruitt’s security and travel expenses run into the millions. A 24/7 detail requires a dedicated team of up to 20 agents, whereas a door-to-door detail can be as few as 6. He also ordered a custom, sound proof phone booth for his office — which, including installation charges, cost taxpayers more than $40,000 — and spent thousands of dollars on bug sweeps of his office. Keep in mind, the EPA offices already include a facility for reviewing and discussing classified materials.

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On top of these security costs, Pruitt used an obscure provision of the Safer Drinking Water Act to award exorbitant pay raises to two staffers he had brought with him from Oklahoma. This after his request to award the raises had been denied by the White House.

Proposals that didn’t see the light of day are also revealing — a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership that would have allowed Mr. Pruitt to take unlimited private jet trips for official business, and insistence that the security desk be upgraded to a bulletproof model. While a $70,000 proposal to replace two desks in Mr. Pruitt’s office may never have been seriously considered, his desk was refurbished for $2,075. I will leave it to others to opine on Mr. Pruitt’s desire to use lights and sirens to expedite local trips — because he was running late. Or the conflicts and ethics problems presented by renting a condo from lobbyists at below market values. (Pruitt paid $50/ day for a room/condo in an expensive neighborhood just steps from the Capitol. Pruitt used the set up for family members as well as himself and only paid for the days he was there).

We’ve seen this movie before. Inappropriate behavior on the taxpayer dime is not new for political officials, and not unique to this administration or either political party. Then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta flew to his home in California almost every weekend, for example. But, it cannot be taken lightly and it should never be tolerated. All cabinet members have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers, and we expect them to take that duty seriously. Mr. Pruitt is no exception, and my concern is that his judgement shows no concern for saving money for taxpayers.

If this administration wants to make good on President Trump’s promise of draining the swamp, Mr. Pruitt’s actions should be a red flag. Taxpayers cannot afford Scott Pruitt.