In response to pressure from Democrats and environmental groups, the Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general on Monday announced a probe into agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded travel to his home state of Oklahoma.
In a statement, officials with the inspector general’s office said their work will begin by the end of the month and will examine Mr. Pruitt’s travel from the start of his tenure in February through July 31.
“This assignment is being initiated based on congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt’s travel — primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense,” said John Trefry, the inspector general’s director of forensic audits, in a memo to other EPA officials.
The inquiry will examine: the “frequency, cost and extent” of Mr. Pruitt’s travel; whether all EPA procedures and policies were followed; and whether those policies are sufficient to prevent any fraud or waste of taxpayer money.
Mr. Pruitt appears to have spent at least 43 of his first 92 days in office in Oklahoma or traveling to and from the state, according to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit advocacy group. The travel is estimated to have cost taxpayers at least $12,000, not including costs for Mr. Pruitt’s aides or the security detail traveling with him.
“While Pruitt has every right to return to Oklahoma, he can’t expect American taxpayers to foot the bill for politically motivated or personal travel,” said Melanie Sloan, a senior advisor with the ethics group American Oversight. “At a time in which Administrator Pruitt is slashing EPA offices dedicated to water and air safety, it’s heartening that the inspector general is taking steps to protect taxpayer money and curb Pruitt’s spendthrift travel.”
Critics charge the travel may be tied to politics, as rumors swirl that Mr. Pruitt could have his eyes on elected office after his tenure at the EPA.