EPA inspector general tells agency to ask Pruitt for $124,000 in first class travel reimbursements

EPA inspector general tells agency to ask Pruitt for $124,000 in first class travel reimbursements
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The watchdog overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending the agency demand $124,000 in reimbursements from former Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOn The Money: Conservative blocks disaster relief bill | Trade high on agenda as Trump heads to Japan | Boeing reportedly faces SEC probe over 737 Max | Study finds CEO pay rising twice as fast as worker pay Overnight Energy: Democrats push EPA to collect 4K in 'excessive' Pruitt travel expenses | Greens angered over new rules for rocket fuel chemical | Inslee to join youth climate strikers in Las Vegas Democrats push EPA to collect 4K from Pruitt for 'excessive airfare expenses' MORE.

The EPA Office of Inspector General (OIG) report released Thursday found that Pruitt and his staff incurred thousands of dollars in “excessive airfare expenses ... without sufficient justification to support security concerns requiring the use of first- and business-class travel.”

The estimated total of $123,942 comes from a comparison of pricing for coach-class travel and first-class travel on flights Pruitt took as EPA chief, as well as an analysis of the travel taken by his staff and security detail.

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“The EPA’s management of its travel program has been a persistent area of concern for the Office of Inspector General,” Deputy Inspector General Charles Sheehan said in a statement. "If the agency’s internal controls over travel aren’t strengthened, abuses may continue to occur at great cost to EPA programs and taxpayers.”

Pruitt resigned from the agency in July amidst a number of ethics controversies, including his prolific and highly scrutinized use of first-class travel for EPA related work.

At the time Pruitt and his staff argued that the elite travel was necessary for his safety, but critics cried foul.

The OIG opened the audit in response to “numerous congressional requests and hotline complaints regarding Pruitt’s travel.”

“The OIG initiated an audit to determine the frequency, cost and extent of the Administrator’s travel; whether federal regulations and EPA travel policy and procedures were followed; and whether EPA policy and procedures were sufficiently designed to prevent fraud, waste and Abuse,” the report read.

Among its many findings, the watchdog ruled that the EPA and its employees did not “always justify” higher lodging costs and the use of noncontract airlines. Pruitt reportedly preferred flying Delta for the airline points. It also found that the agency “improperly” approved business-class travel for Pruitt’s Protective Service Detail agents and other accompanying staff on his flights.

The EPA responded Thursday saying it would not seek to recover the travel costs from Pruitt, pushing back on many of the OIG report’s findings.

“The basis for the recovery of these funds rests on OIG contesting whether there was a proper delegation within EPA to approve first-class travel and whether that travel was justified,” EPA wrote in a statement.

“In evaluating the delegation EPA believes that the trips were authorized by an appropriate official, making cost recovery inappropriate.”

The agency added that it also recently provided “retroactive approval” of each trip Pruitt took as administrator.

“EPA believes it has also complied with Federal Travel Regulations making cost recovery inappropriate,” the agency wrote.

Updated at 1:31 p.m.