Watchdog to issue report on hiring method EPA used to give raises

Watchdog to issue report on hiring method EPA used to give raises
© Greg Nash

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog is planning to issue an interim report on the Trump administration’s use of a special hiring authority that was central to a recent scandal involving EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments Sanders endures press grilling over Russia Court blocks EPA policy against enforcing truck pollution rule MORE.

The report follows allegations that EPA officials circumvented the White House using that special authority in order to give two EPA aides raises.

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General said Friday that its Monday report will be a “management alert” related to the agency’s use of special hiring authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Agency officials used that authority in March to give big raises to two close aides to Pruitt, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, after the White House refused to allow the raises. The report, which auditors began prior to the reported raises, may address the issue.

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Pruitt denied knowing about the raises and ordered them undone, he told Fox News. His chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, later took responsibility for the increases.

The Atlantic later reported that Pruitt ordered the raises, and Kevin Chmielewski, a former top staffer for Pruitt, told congressional Democrats this week that Pruitt knew about them.

Congress gave the EPA the special authority to hire up to 30 employees in “administratively determined” jobs in the 1970s. Employees under the provision are not restrained by civil service or political appointee rules, so they don’t have to sign an ethics pledge and the White House doesn’t have to approve their raises, unlike normal political appointees.

The legal provision was meant to allow the agency to hire experts and scientists more easily, but it has been interpreted broadly. The Trump administration and previous administrations have used it to hire all manner of employees, including strategists, communications staffers, executive assistants and policy officials.

The inspector general began examining the EPA’s use of the hiring authority in January.

Democrats criticized the EPA last year for using the authority to hire Nancy Beck to a leading role in the chemical safety office. She previously worked at the American Chemistry Council, but did not have to sign Trump’s ethics pledge that would have put stronger restrictions on her ability to work on certain chemical industry matters.

-Updated 3:30 p.m.