New IG ends probes of misuse of staff for personal errands, spending on security.
Citing a spike in congressional requests and a declining budget, the inspector general for the Environmental Protection Agency informed Congress on Friday that he has ended the office’s multiple investigations into reports of misconduct by former Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned in July under a cloud.
In its routine semi-annual report to Congress covering April through September, newly installed acting IG Charles Sheehan included a review of accusations that Pruitt “had subordinates at the EPA assist him in finding personal housing; that he used his official position and EPA staff to seek a ‘business opportunity’ for his wife with Chick-fil-A, a fast-food restaurant chain; that he enlisted subordinates at the EPA to secure a mattress for his personal use; and that he had his security detail run errands for him.”
After interviewing witnesses—but not Pruitt, who resigned before they could speak—the office “deemed that the result of the investigation was inconclusive. The case will be closed.”
Sheehan credited the work to his predecessor Arthur Elkins Jr., who retired in October. The IG’s team had also investigated whether Pruitt improperly pressured staff to “render opinions” on his questioned lodging arrangements during travel, but that allegation “was not supported,” the report said.
In a message to Congress titled “Our Core: Integrity, Health and Environmental Concerns,” the IG said the auditors, evaluators and staff had “marshalled collective efforts to comprehensively and carefully—yet expeditiously—address a range of matters related to” Pruitt. Among them: “potential threats made against him; his travel, calendars and security detail; his hiring, reassignment and demotion of staff; and alleged misuse of his position.”
Before cancelling the work in the wake of Pruitt’s departure, the IG released two key audits, the report noted. “While assessing the administrator’s use of hiring authorities under the Safe Drinking Water Act, we found that six employees received substantial pay increases along with conversions of their positions.” The IG issued a management alert on this finding.
The IG’s audit of Pruitt’s Protective Service Detail found that the agency had no approved standard operating procedures addressing the level of protection needed or how it is provided.
During the six-month period, the EPA IG provided 10 briefings to Congress and received “an unprecedented number of” data requests from lawmakers on headline issues, the report said, even though “since 2014 our annual budget has shrunk over $1 million.”
Two Democratic senators were not pleased at the IG's decision to end the investigations. “Scott Pruitt set a new bar for unethical behavior by a Trump Cabinet official, and that’s saying a lot,” stated Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. “We appreciate the problems of investigating Pruitt’s abject abuse of government position once he’s fled EPA, but walking away leaves the full story of what took place in EPA’s highest position untold.”