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EPA watchdog, senators recommend agency recoup $124K for Pruitt's "excessive" travel costs

Scott Pruitt. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty Images

Senators are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to collect nearly $124,000 for inappropriate travel expenses by former agency chief Scott Pruitt, after a watchdog reports was released, reports the Hill.

The state of play: In a Thursday letter EPA on Thursday, 4 senators requested changes to the existing policy so “similar abuses of agency funds are not permitted to reoccur," per the Hill.

The big picture: Pruitt isn't the first member of the Trump administration to end up in hot water for top-dollar travel.

  • The former head of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, resigned after spending nearly a $1 million on travel expenses.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also requested government travel for him and his wife for their honeymoon.
  • Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was also investigated for his travel spending.

Details: The Office of Inspector General's estimated findings come nearly a year after Pruitt resigned amid controversy over his spending, travel and relationships with lobbyists. Investigators concluded that 40 trips Pruitt either took or scheduled between March 1 and Dec. 31, 2017, cost taxpayers $985,037, allotted for Pruitt's security detail and staffers' travel.

“Actions are needed to strengthen controls over the EPA’s travel and prevent fraud, waste and abuse,”
— the IG's office

The inspector general’s office is questioning $123,941 spent to fly Pruitt and his security detail in first- or business class, while his staff was required to fly coach. When traveling to Tulsa, Okla. — where Pruitt maintained a home while serving as a member of President Trump’s cabinet — his staff was occasionally required to cover their own travel expenses.

What they're saying: The EPA responded, clarifying a long-standing policy of allowing travel other than coach class. The agency's general counsel issued an opinion determining that the acting controller “had the authority to grant first-class exceptions. Therefore, in evaluating the delegation EPA believes that the trips were authorized by an appropriate official, making cost recovery inappropriate."