Scott Pruitt Went Against White House To Give Favorite Aides Raises

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New reports of possible ethics violations fueled speculation about whether Pruitt would be fired or remain head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt waving his finger

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt is facing new scrutiny for ethics violations after reports from The Atlantic and The Washington Post.

In the first incident drawing scrutiny, Pruitt asked the White House last month for pay raises for two favored aides. When the White House rejected Pruitt’s request, the administrator decided to invoke a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which The Atlantic reports is “meant to help expedite the hiring of experts and allow for more flexible staffing.” The provision allows Pruitt to make hires without gaining approval from the White House or Congress. Shortly after the White House rejected Pruitt’s request for pay raises, his two aides were approved to receive salary increases of $28,130 and $56,765.

Anonymous EPA officials quoted by The Atlantic seemed, more than anything else, saddened by the way Pruitt has run the agency.

“This whole thing has completely gutted any morale I had left to put up with this place,” an unnamed official said.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended Pruitt’s allocation of money.

“The Safe Drinking Water Act provides the EPA with broad authority to appoint scientific, engineering, professional, legal, and administrative positions within EPA without regard to the civil service laws. This is clear authority that has been relied on by previous administrations. The Administrator was not aware that these personnel actions had not been submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office. So, the Administrator has directed that they be submitted to the Presidential Personnel Office for review,” Wilcox said.

The second incident involved Pruitt’s director of scheduling and advance, Milan Hupp, who worked with a real estate firm last year to help Pruitt search for a property to rent or buy, according to The Washington Post.

The general counsel of an ethics regulator said Pruitt’s use of a staff member for non-government errands is a violation of ethics standards, even if government resources are not used and the tasks occur outside of working hours.

“There’s a general prohibition against misusing government resources, and employees are government resources. It’s clearly personal, and frankly, it doesn’t matter if she did it 11 a.m. on a Tuesday or at 2 p.m. on a Saturday if, in fact, that was an expectation of the job,” Don Fox of the Office of Government Ethics said.

The new ethics concerns have prompted further calls for Pruitt’s resignation. House Republican Carlos Curbelo became the first member of Trump’s party to call for Pruitt to step down, according to Politico. Democrats have hounded Pruitt for prior ethics concerns, including the administrator’s use of government money to pay for first-class travel and his arrangement with the wife of an energy lobbyist to rent a room for $50 per night.

Tuesday’s reports fueled speculation about whether Pruitt would be fired or remain head of the EPA. But the reporting also emphasized the importance of vigilant journalism and how frequent contact with government sources can help regulate the ethics of elected officials.

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