EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Andrew Harnik/AP

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EPA Beefs Up Ethics Office as Pruitt’s Troubles Multiply

Latest reports allege scrubbing of his calendar, job hunt for wife.

The Environmental Protection Agency is hiring for ethics positions as its chief ethics official has grown more concerned about mounting reports of misconduct by Administrator Scott Pruitt.

An agency spokesman on Tuesday confirmed to Government Executive the existence of a letter to the governmentwide Office of Government Ethics sent on June 27 from Kevin Minoli, deputy general counsel and designated agency ethics official, acknowledging multiple referrals of complaints about Pruitt’s behavior to the inspector general.

The New York Times had reported on Saturday that Minoli had reversed an earlier stance largely defending Pruitt against such accusations as accepting inexpensive lodging from a lobbyist, overuse of first-class travel, and overspending on personal security.

 Minoli’s letter responding to concerns raised in a 2016 OGE program review and a letter this April by acting OGE chief David Apol also revealed that last summer’s hiring freeze had caused a depletion of EPA’s ethics office staff. Retirements and other temporary departures had reduced it to only one full-time employee, his letter said.

To handle the current expansion of issues being raised, he plans to rebuild it to six staffers. “These additional resources will focus on expanding the availability of ethics officials to provide ethics advice and increasing the support of [designated ethics officials] across EPA,” Minoli wrote.

“The letter reports back to the OGE on a number of administrative and staffing issues, some of which predate the Trump administration,” an EPA spokesman said in a statement to Government Executive. “The agency has taken early steps to address some of the concerns the OGE raised well before this letter was sent last week, including the hiring of two additional ethics officials and ongoing ethics training and retraining for EPA staff.” 

The statement continued: “Assigning new ethics staff within the OGC was necessary especially at the beginning of the new administration to evaluate recusals, disclosures, and other ethics reviews involved in hiring new political appointees. Part of the remainder of the letter discusses cooperation with the OIG, a normal course of business for any agency, and the entire EPA is always responsive to the OIG and their requests for information.” 

Pruitt, meanwhile, faces as many as 13 investigations between the IG and congressional committees, on issues such as his $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office and alleged use of agency staff to run personal errands.

His issues have only grown in visibility. On Monday, CNN quoted former Pruitt operations deputy Kevin Chmielewski saying that Pruitt’s staffers regularly met to “scrub” the administrator’s calendar of any entries that might prove politically embarrassing. Some two dozen, meetings, events or calls were omitted, CNN estimated.

The Washington Post reported that Pruitt also instructed a staffer to help land his wife a $200,000 a year job by contacting the Republican Attorneys General Association. (The staffer did not make the call.)

And Pruitt himself on Monday was subjected to the same public confrontations with angry average citizens that other Trump officials have been enduring. The Huffington Post reported that a teacher and mother posted on Facebook a video of her approaching Pruitt in a Washington restaurant. “This is my son. He loves animals. He loves clean air. He loves clean water,” she told him. “Meanwhile, you’re slashing strong fuel standards for cars and trucks for the benefit of big corporations.”