Scrutiny of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s spending and ethics issues grew Wednesday, with White House budget director Mick Mulvaney telling lawmakers he would probe Pruitt’s activities and a leading House Republican revealing his committee was pressing the agency for answers.
Mulvaney’s remarks that he was looking into Pruitt’s purchase of a $43,000 privacy booth and the comments by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden are adding to Pruitt’s woes as the inquiries into his spending habits multiply.
Criticism of Pruitt’s expenses for expanding and upgrading his personal security, heavy spending on first-class airfare and controversial pay hikes for close aides is now spreading to Republicans, who until recently had dismissed the issue as a series of political attacks from Democrats and environmentalists who oppose his rollback of the Obama administration’s policies.
“I’m not interested in covering for anybody else,” Mulvaney told the House Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee. “I’m not any happier about it than you are.”
Mulvaney’s comments came two days after the Government Accountability Office found EPA violated the Antideficiency Act by failing to notify Congress about the cost of the secure phone booth. Federal law mandates agencies notify congressional appropriators if they intend to spend over $5,000 on office furnishings.
“We will investigate them,” Mulvaney added.
EPA has acknowledged it had not notified Congress about the purchase, but defended the move. “EPA disagrees with GAO’s legal conclusion that this expenditure also required notice to Congress, but we are addressing GAO’s concern with regard to congressional notification,” spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.
In addition to that White House probe, House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy has asked for five EPA aides to testify about the recent issues at the agency, and over the weekend he appeared to dismiss Pruitt’s claims that threats to his security required him to fly first or business class. EPA’s inspector general is also conducting four separate investigations into Pruitt and his top staffers.
Walden, whose committee is scheduled to hold a hearing with Pruitt next week over EPA’s budget, told reporters Wednesday that the panel has been seeking information around Pruitt’s ethics questions and spending.
“Let me assure you we have been in contact with the EPA at various levels and [in various] ways to acquire information about the allegations,” he said. So far, none of those requests has been made public, and a committee spokesman was not immediately available to comment.
Still, Republicans appeared divided about how intensely their party should be investigating the embattled EPA chief. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, an ardent Pruitt supporter, this week raised questions about Pruitt’s use of multiple official email accounts but backed away from the notion of holding hearings on the EPA chief.
Still other GOP lawmakers appeared fed up at having to answer questions about Pruitt’s behavior and welcomed the probes.
“We need to look at this,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) told POLITICO. “There shouldn’t be a reason why we shouldn’t look at this.”
Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member Tom Carper called the Republican-led oversight efforts “encouraging.”
“In private conversations that I’ve had with my GOP colleagues, there is not just disappointment with Mr. Pruitt on any number of levels but disdain. I think they’ll find their voices — maybe sooner rather than later,” Carper said.
Democrats tried to keep up the pressure, with 170 lawmakers signing on to a resolution calling for Pruitt’s ouster — echoing a call from The New York Times editorial board on Wednesday.
“We really feel we’ve got a lot of good momentum,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), lead sponsor of the resolution, said. “People are outraged by the way this guy has behaved.”