WASHINGTON — Several high-ranking officials at the Environmental Protection Agency were reassigned, demoted or opted to leave after they voiced concerns about agency head Scott Pruitt’s seemingly lavish spending habits, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Among the concerns that ultimately resulted in staff shake-ups were Pruitt’s first-class travel and pricey office desks, as well as requests for a bulletproof SUV, 20-person security detail and $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership, according to the Times, which cited current and former EPA staff familiar with the situation.
Scrutiny over Pruitt’s alleged ethical misconduct is growing, and both Republicans and Democrats are pressuring him to resign as the nation’s chief environmental regulator.
The Times found that at least five EPA officials were sidelined for speaking up, either about agency spending or management. Kevin Chmielewski, a political appointee, was placed on administrative leave without pay. Two career staffers were reassigned to roles more removed from budgetary matters. Another left the agency and took a job at American University. And a member of Pruitt’s security detail was “removed from the team and had his gun and badge taken away after raising concerns about how Mr. Pruitt’s security was being handled,” the Times reports.
Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the agency, denied that the staff changes were related to employees’ concerns about spending. “We dispute the veracity of the accusations,” he told the Times.
At the center of Pruitt’s ethics scandal is a room he rented in a luxury Capitol Hill condominium that is co-owned by the wife of a top gas industry lobbyist, as ABC News first reported. Pruitt paid just $50 per night, well below market value.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Donald Trump “thinks that [Pruitt’s] done a good job, particularly on the deregulation front,” but added that “we take this seriously and we’re looking into it.” And on Thursday, Hogan Gidley, a deputy White House press secretary, said on Fox News that he “can’t speak to the future of Scott Pruitt.”
Read the full New York Times report here.