Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA



April 23, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to “drain the swamp” as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency whose spending, travel, sweet housing arrangement and treatment of his staff reflect all that’s rotten in Washington.

Pruitt has been dogged for weeks by reports of his private housing deal, hiring practices and costly travel at taxpayers’ expense. He leased a bedroom for $50 a night in a Washington apartment owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist. His heavy spending on office furniture and travel, and insistence on tight security and other perks, caused career agency staff and even a Trump appointee to push back. At least four high-ranking EPA officials who raised concerns over his management were later demoted or reassigned, or they asked for new jobs. Officials say agency morale has plummeted as career staff see Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, marginalize the role that scientists play in the agency’s decisionmaking process.

The federal government’s top ethics official was so alarmed by the reports that he wrote to the EPA’s designated ethics officer this month, calling attention to three areas of concern and urging the agency to investigate. Leasing an apartment at below-market rate from the wife of a lobbyist whose clients have business before the EPA could constitute a gift, the government’s top ethics officer, David J. Apol, warned. Pruitt’s expenses for travel and security also raised questions, given his frequent trips “to his home state at government expense,” about whether Pruitt was “using his public office for personal gain.” And the ethics office cited as “extremely concerning” reports that Pruitt had reassigned or demoted staff who attempted to ensure that the administrator’s actions were legal and proper. “Agency heads in particular bear a heightened responsibility,” Apol wrote, to foster an “ethical culture in the agency.”

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