The latest probe comes as Pruitt faces more than a half-dozen inquiries into his spending habits, living arrangements and management at the agency. The investigations are taking place within both the House and Senate, the EPA and the White House. Earlier this week, an investigation by the Government Accountability Office found Pruitt’s installation of a $43,000 soundproof phone booth had violated federal spending laws.
The latest inquiry follows a March 20 request from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who told officials that he had obtained work schedules and other documents detailing how Pruitt’s 24/7 protective detail accompanied him on personal trips. The arrangement resulted in taxpayers footing the bill for travel and lodging for agents, even when Pruitt wasn’t on officials business.
Whitehouse also said several sources had indicated to his office that Pruitt frequently requested per diem lodging expenses above the government’s established rate.
“The documents and information that have been provided to me raise many troubling questions,” the senator wrote Inspector General Arthur Elkins in March. “While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious, personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment.”
In a letter to Whitehouse dated Tuesday, Elkins said his office would pursue an inquiry into the matter, despite time and budget constraints.
“After analyzing your request, we have decided to conduct a review,” he wrote. “The new engagement will review the Administrator’s personal travel and various other elements of your request.”
The EPA has argued that Pruitt’s personal security detail, which demands far more resources than for his predecessors and has cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million, is necessary given the intensity and number of threats he has received.
“Administrator Pruitt follows the same security protocol whether he’s in his personal or official capacity,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said Thursday in a statement.
Elkins already had opened inquiries into Pruitt’s frequent travel home to Oklahoma, his use of noncommercial and military aircraft, and his security expenses.
A top government ethics official also has urged the EPA to look into possible violations linked to Pruitt’s spending habits, his favorable condo lease from a lobbyist last year and his personnel decisions.
In a letter this month, David J. Apol, the acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, took the unusual step of telling EPA officials that Pruitt’s actions deserved additional scrutiny. “Public trust demands that all employees act in the public interest, and free from any actual or perceived conflicts,” Apol wrote.