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EPA watchdog: Trump budget cuts would be a ‘significant challenge’

EPA watchdog: Trump budget cuts would be a ‘significant challenge’
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) internal watchdog office complained that the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts would create a “significant challenge” to its work.

Inspector General Arthur Elkins sent a letter last year to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), outlining his concerns regarding the budget proposal for fiscal 2019, which the administration is still developing and is planning to release next month.

“The proposed fiscal year (FY) 2019 budget creates a significant challenge for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Office of Inspector General (OIG) and its ability to accomplish its agency oversight mission,” he wrote in the September letter, which the office released recently in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.

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Elkins had asked for $62 million for his office’s 2019 operations. But EPA officials instead asked the White House for $41 million, citing OMB’s request that budget not go too far above Trump’s request for fiscal 2018, which was $37 million, according to the letter and a report Elkins sent to Congress in November.

“Such a proposal would substantially inhibit the OIG from performing the duties of the office, including mandatory OIG responsibilities explicitly required by federal law,” he said.

He also argued that restricting the OIG’s request based on Trump’s 2018 budget is illogical, since the House rejected the dramatic cuts in its funding bill for the EPA last year. The Senate has not passed its version of the bill.

Elkins’s office has opened numerous high-profile investigations into EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittMcConnell and wife confronted by customers at restaurant EPA puts science ‘transparency’ rule on back burner Tucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him MORE, including probing his travel spending and his decision to spend about $25,000 on a soundproof booth for his office.

The OIG is required by law to conduct regular audits of various EPA programs and grants, to investigate misconduct allegations involving agency employees and to probe matters in response to congressional requests.

Elkins warned that many of those activities would be at risk with a substantially slashed budget: “A budget of $41 million will virtually eliminate the OIG’s ability to perform discretionary audits and program evaluations.”

Whatever funding level Trump requests for the OIG, Congress will be ultimately responsible for setting agency budgets.

The letter was first reported Monday by Politico.