Watchdog: Pruitt’s chief of staff responsible for aides’ controversial raises

Watchdog: Pruitt’s chief of staff responsible for aides’ controversial raises
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE’s chief of staff was responsible for controversial raises given recently to three aides.

In a Monday report, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded, based on documents provided to investigators by the agency, that Ryan Jackson signed off on the five-figure raises, but indicated that Pruitt authorized them.

The OIG’s report doesn’t identify the employees who got the raises. But based on the details in the report, two of them appear to be Pruitt’s scheduling director Millan Hupp and senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt, and the EPA declined to identify the third one.

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The Atlantic first reported on the Hupp and Greenwalt raises earlier this month.

Jackson increased the aides’ pay using a special authority the EPA has under the Safe Drinking Water Act, after the White House rejected the EPA’s request to make the raises through the normal procedure for political appointees.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the raises followed standard agency procedures.

“Salary determinations for appointees are made by EPA’s chief of staff, White House liaison, and career human resources officials,” he said in a Monday statement.

“Salaries are based on work history; and, any increases are due to either new and additional responsibilities or promotions. Salary determinations are made to avoid disparities among positions of equivalent or similar responsibilities, to the extent possible.”

The OIG report corroborates Jackson’s assertion last week that he was solely responsible for them. But Pruitt had told Fox News the week prior that he knew nothing about the raises, despite Jackson adding "for Scott Pruitt" after his signature on the forms, copies of which the OIG attached to its report.

Pruitt said he reversed the raises for Hupp and Greenwalt after the uproar over them, but the OIG did not have the information to confirm that.

The raises were one of a series of scandals involving Pruitt that emerged in recent weeks, along with his apartment rental from a lobbyist for $50 per night he spent there and lavish spending on security and other costs.

Kevin Chmielewski, formerly Pruitt’s deputy chief of staff for operations, told congressional investigators last week that although Jackson signed off on the raises, Pruitt knew about the entire process.

In fact, the documents reviewed by the OIG show that Jackson signed “Ryan Jackson for Scott Pruitt” in one of the placed authorizing the raises.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.) last week asked Pruitt to make Jackson, Hupp and Greenwalt available for transcribed interviews as part of a wide-ranging investigation he is conducting into numerous Pruitt scandals.

Monday’s OIG report was a brief “management alert.” The watchdog is also working on a wider audit of the EPA’s use of the Safe Drinking Water Act for personnel hiring.

The law lets the agency hire up to 30 people at a time without regard to rules for civil service employees or political appointees — including the need to get White House approval for raises. Congress passed the legal provision to enable the EPA to better attract scientists and experts, but it did not put those restrictions on the agency.

The EPA has used the law to hire people in policy, public relations, scientific and other roles across the agency.

— Updated: 3:35 p.m.