Embattled Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt is on Capitol Hill Thursday where he is expected to be grilled over his department’s spending habits.
Pruitt and his office, which he’s led since 2017, have come under fire for extravagant spending habits, including on first-class travel, pay raises to top aides and a $43,000 soundproof booth.
The questioning comes as Pruitt is scheduled to testify before Congress about his agency’s budget in back-to-back hearings before two House subcommittees. And Pruitt shouldn’t expect to see a wave of support from Republicans on the Hill as there has been a notable erosion of support for the former Oklahoma attorney general among those in the Party.
Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said Pruitt’s behavior has begun to hurt the president’s credibility, as well as the GOP generally.
Publicly, President Trump has stood by Pruitt, saying on Twitter that the EPA administrator is “under siege” but is “doing a great job,” even as several politicians have called on him to replace the Cabinet official.
Read on for a look at some of Pruitt’s controversies since he’s led the EPA.
Capitol Hill apartment
Pruitt’s been criticized for renting a Capitol Hill condo that was tied to a prominent fossil-fuels lobbyist for $50 per night. EPA ethics officials have said the lease did not violate federal ethics rules, but it has still been a cause of consternation for Pruitt.
Pruitt paid a total of $6,100 for the room over a six-month period. As he only paid for the nights he occupied the room, rent averaged out to be about $1,000 per month.
“This was like an Airbnb situation,” Pruitt told Fox News of the rental. “When I was not there, the landlord, they had access to the entirety of the facility. When I was there, I only had access to a room.”
Pruitt spent millions of taxpayer dollars on security and travel expenses since taking over the EPA, according to a report.
Those travel expenses include between $2,000 and $2,600 on first class flights to Oklahoma, where he is from. His security chief accompanied him in first class, the report said. However, when Pruitt was paying for his own travel, he flew coach, an EPA official said.
EPA travel expense documents released to The Associated Press showed that a trip to Italy in June 2017 cost more than $120,000. Part of the expense comes from his 20-member full-time security detail.
At one point, EPA aides considered leasing a private jet for Pruitt’s travels, The Washington Post reported. The cost would have come out to about $100,000 per month, officials told the newspaper.
When running late for a dinner in Washington, D.C., one evening, Pruitt asked if sirens could be turned on in order to get out of the traffic sooner, CBS News reported. His request was reportedly denied by the agent in charge of his security detail who was later removed from his position.
In a statement, EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson said the agency does not “comment on personnel matters within EPA’s protective service detail.” But he said he has “no knowledge of anyone being removed from the detail for not using lights and sirens.”
Pay raises to aides
Another point of contention with Pruitt’s leadership at the EPA is the substantial pay raises he gave two close aides, despite the White House’s refusal to sign off on it.
He told Fox News that while he initially wasn’t sure who signed off on the pay raises, he “corrected the action.”
Pruitt had approached the White House in March 2018 to ask for pay raises for two of his closest aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp. He asked for Greenwalt’s salary to go to $164,200 from $107,435; he wanted to raise Hupp’s salary to $114,590 from $86,460. Since the employees are political appointees, the White House needed to sign off on the pay increases but declined to do so.
Chief of staff Ryan Jackson eventually took the fall for pay raises.
“These kinds of personnel actions are handled by EPA’s HR officials, Presidential Personnel Office and me,” he said.
The Government Accountability Office found in April that Pruitt’s office violated federal spending laws when it purchased a $43,000 soundproof privacy booth. The booth was purchased so Pruitt could make private phone calls in his office.
According to the GAO, the purchase violated laws that prohibit agencies from spending more than $5,000 to make improvements to the offices of presidential appointees without informing Congress.
Pruitt’s head of security had also hoped to purchase a bulletproof desk for his office that would have cost $70,000, The New York Times reported. While that idea was nixed, two other expensive desks were purchased, including one that was refurbished for more than $2,000, according to The New York Times.
He previously spent about $9,000 to an outside contractor who swept the office for listening devices and installed biometric locks.
Barnini Chakraborty and The Associated Press contributed to this report.