ON MONDAY, two independent watchdogs released reports detailing abuse and, in one case, violation of the law at Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency in pursuit of perks for the administrator and his staff. President Trump should have fired Mr. Pruitt a long time ago. The latest reports underscore the swampy behavior Mr. Trump appears willing to tolerate and excuse.
The Government Accountability Office found that the EPA broke the law when it installed a $43,000-plus privacy booth in Mr. Pruitt’s office, vastly exceeding the $5,000 cap Congress imposed on buying furniture or making improvements to the private offices of federal agency heads. The EPA should have informed Congress it wanted to spend tens of thousands of dollars on an unnecessary security upgrade. By failing to do so and spending the money anyway, it violated two federal laws, the GAO concluded.
The EPA says Mr. Pruitt required access to a secure telephone line in an appropriate setting. But there already were two secure facilities at the EPA available for just such a purpose. Moreover, as the New York Times reported this month, members of Mr. Pruitt’s staff argued that the administrator needed only a $10,000 upgrade to obtain the privacy he desired, one of many objections they raised to the administrator’s lavish spending. The Times found that these staffers were punished, and $43,000 was spent on “a special chamber with sound-dampening privacy products and ceiling baffles that would prevent anyone from intercepting voice or data transmissions.”
Also on Monday, the EPA’s inspector general revealed an interim report on large raises Mr. Pruitt’s aides received. The inspector general released employment forms that appear to show that Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff signed off on two controversial salary hikes that went to favored staffers whom the administrator had brought with him from Oklahoma. Though names were redacted, the salary figures — about 70 percent increases in both cases — correspond to raises that staffers Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp were reported to have obtained even after the White House denied a request to boost their salaries. The EPA twisted an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act that allows for hiring flexibility at the agency to jam through the raises.
Mr. Pruitt insisted he did not know about the raises or about the way his staffers bypassed White House objections. But his chief of staff appears to have signed the forms “for Scott Pruitt,” suggesting that he was acting with explicit or implicit permission. Certainly, Mr. Pruitt bears responsibility for the actions of his chief of staff, who is still working at the EPA.
As the picture of arrogance and mismanagement at the EPA gets more detailed, it becomes ever more astonishing that an administrator so clearly unfit for service continues to lead a crucial federal agency.