Aides to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt last year considered leasing a private jet on a month-to-month basis to accommodate his travel needs, according to current and former agency officials.
The idea was quickly scuttled after some top advisers objected, according to these individuals. Aides were discussing the arrangement before Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services amid revelations about costly flights he had taken aboard chartered planes.
“This is not news,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement Monday. “EPA’s [chief financial officer] regularly receives solicitations for this type of travel, we did our due diligence, found it was not as cost efficient and continued to fly commercial.”
NetJets, an Ohio-based company, declined to comment Monday.
News that Pruitt’s team explored a six-figure contract for chartered flight comes as he is facing a number of ethics questions in addition to scrutiny from lawmakers of both parties about the many first-class domestic and international flights he took during his first year in office.
In recent weeks, the EPA turned over documents to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) detailing $68,000 in newly disclosed travel costs for Pruitt since August.
That comes after The Washington Post reported on the tab for Pruitt’s earlier travels, including a trip to Italy last June that cost the agency at least $120,000 for the administrator, his aides and his personal security detail.
EPA officials attribute the elevated expense of Pruitt’s travels to the security precautions they have undertaken because of the number of threats he has received — especially compared with his immediate predecessors — since joining President Trump’s Cabinet in February 2017. The agency has argued that Pruitt’s predecessors also spent large sums on foreign travel, though they typically flew coach.
The administrator has received round-the-clock security protection since shortly after he took office. Last spring, the head of his security detail recommended he fly in first or business class after a confrontation in which a traveler made vulgar remarks to Pruitt, officials have said.
While it appears that Pruitt has primarily taken commercial flights, he has flown at least four times on noncommercial and military planes since mid-February, costing taxpayers more than $58,000. Those costs included $36,068 for a military jet to get him from a presidential event in Ohio to New York to catch a flight to Europe; a $5,719 chartered flight in Colorado to visit the site of a mine spill; and use of an Interior Department plane at a cost of $14,434.50 for meetings in Oklahoma.
All of those trips were signed off on by EPA ethics officials.
More recently, Pruitt has faced scrutiny over his installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in his office and the disclosure that he rented an apartment in a prime location on Capitol Hill from a lobbyist couple, paying $50 per night only on the days he stayed at the property.
White House officials said late Monday that they were looking into Pruitt’s rental arrangement last year but did not provide details about the probe.
Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.