As Pruitt resigns, Rep. Cummings raises further ethical inquiries

Following word of Scott Pruitt’s resignation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) released new details of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s interviews with current and former EPA aides.

In a letter to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr., whose office has already opened several ethics investigations into Pruitt prior to his resignation, Cummings, the committee’s ranking member, described further incidents of Pruitt’s use of agency employees to attend to personal matters.

In an interview with committee staff,  Samantha Dravis, a former EPA policy chief, said Pruitt had asked her to help his wife Marlyn Pruitt find work as a political fundraiser.

“Mrs. Dravis told committee staff that even after she helped Mrs. Pruitt find full-time employment, Mr. Pruitt asked her to contact the Republican Attorneys General Association to find Mrs. Pruitt an additional position as a political fundraiser,” Cummings wrote in the letter.

Dravis told committee staff she refused Pruitt’s request to reach out to RAGA, and said she believed his request could be a violation of the Hatch Act.

Last month, news reports showed Pruitt had an agency staffer reach out to Chick-fil-A through government email to discuss the possibility of getting his wife to operate a franchise.

Wheeler to serve as acting EPA administrator

President Donald Trump broke the news of Pruitt’s resignation Thursday.

“I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency,” Trump wrote. “Within the agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this.”

Andrew Wheeler, who was confirmed as EPA deputy administrator in April, will take over as acting administrator on Monday, Trump wrote in a follow-up tweet.

“I have no doubt that Andy [Wheeler] will continue on with our great and lasting EPA agenda,” Trump tweeted. “We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!”

The Environmental Protection Network, a nonpartisan organization comprised of more than 200 former EPA and state environmental agency employees, said in a statement it will “watch carefully what direction the agency takes under the leadership of Andrew Wheeler.”

“Perhaps  Mr. Wheeler will reconsider many of the Pruitt directions as not being in the best interest of American families and communities – and will work to restore the integrity of EPA as an organization and its role as a protector of important values that the vast majority of Americans support,” EPN wrote.

Increased staffing at EPA ethics office

Prior to his resignation, Pruitt was the subject of more than a dozen federal investigations from the agency IG, congressional committees and the Office of Management and Budget.

In April, the Government Accountability Office found the EPA violated federal spending laws when it spent $43,000 of a soundproof “privacy booth” in Pruitt’s office without notifying the House and Senate appropriations committees.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told lawmakers his agency would investigate the claims made in GAO’s report, and determine what punishment, if any, would be necessary.

Jennifer Kaplan, the deputy assistant inspector general for congressional and public affairs, told Federal News Radio the agency’s OIG is “assessing and evaluating this latest news,” and may decide as early as next week how it will proceed with its investigations.

In a June 27 letter to the acting head of the Office of Government Ethics, Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s principal deputy general counsel, said the Office of General Counsel (OGC) ethics division would increase its workforce.

Minoli’s letter responded to an ethics program review OGE had concluded in March 2017.

In that review, OGE found that the EPA’s Office of General Counsel staff “may be insufficiently staffed to ensure the long-term effectiveness of EPA’s ethics program,” and expressed concerns that OGC Ethics wouldn’t be able to withstand the impact of any staffing changes, such as medical leave or retirement.

“Based on a workload evaluation by the team and with the support of the General Counsel and Chief of Staff, I am expanding the capacity of the OGC Ethics Office by increasing the number of staff positions. As a first step, I have already filled the two vacated staff positions,” Minoli wrote.
“These additional staff positions will double the staff positions on the team and far exceed any previous staffing level for the OGC Ethics Office.”

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Minoli’s letter also acknowledged the EPA OIG’s several open investigations into Pruitt, and said his office would provide “ready and active assistance” to OIG  investigators.

An EPA spokesman said the letter to OGE addresses staffing concerns that predate the Trump administration.

“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 spokesman said.

The EPA declined to provide further comment following news of Pruitt’s resignation.

Denise Morrison, the acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents EPA employees, said Pruitt’s tenure at the agency provided “unrelenting hostility toward federal, professional scientists and engineers.”