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Ex-EPA chief Scott Pruitt spent nearly $124,000 on 'excessive airfare,' agency says

NBC News logo NBC News 5/16/2019 Laura Strickler and Adiel Kaplan
Scott Pruitt wearing a suit and tie: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment on Capitol Hill on April 26, 2018 in Washington. © Brendan Smialowski Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Environment on Capitol Hill on April 26, 2018 in Washington.

Former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff spent nearly $124,000 on unnecessary first- and business-class air travel during 10 months in 2017, according to a new report from the EPA's Office of the Inspector General.

The excessive first- and business- class travel for Pruitt and his personal security detail was $123,942 between March 1, 2017 and the end of the year. Pruitt resigned seven months later, amid several ethics scandals surrounding his alleged abuse of agency resources. He was the fourth cabinet-level official to resign in the Trump administration.

Nearly half of all of Pruitt's trips during those 10 months included travel to, or had stops in, Tulsa, Oklahoma — the location of Pruitt’s personal residence. The inspector general examined 40 trips for the report, of which six were canceled but still resulted in expenses for the agency. Sixteen of the 34 trips Pruitt did take included Tulsa. The total cost of all the trips, including those canceled, was $985,037.

The report is the result of an internal probe into Pruitt's travel expenses during his tenure overseeing the agency and was prompted by numerous congressional requests and hotline complaints, according the agency. It was initially planned to look at Pruitt's travel from March to July 2017, but the agency twice extended the scope after additional requests.

The majority of Pruitt's travel costs were for airfare, and more than three-quarters of the flights he took were in first class, according to the report. While the trips were justified and most of the costs appropriate, the inspectors found that Pruitt and his staff failed to comply with federal travel regulations and the agency's internal policies. Among the findings were improper approval of expensive lodging costs, inaccurate and incomplete international trip reports and not justifying the use of non-contract air carriers.

In one instance, Pruitt and his accompanying personal security detail agent were each charged $669 for a night at the Cassa Hotel in New York City — more than double the agency's per diem hotel rate of $301. Other security officers at the same hotel that night were only charged $389.

"If the agency’s internal controls over travel aren’t strengthened, abuses may continue to occur at great cost to EPA programs and taxpayers,” said Deputy Inspector General Charles Sheehan.

The inspector general recommended that the agency's chief financial officer determine whether Pruitt or any of the other officials should pay back the excessive airfare from those 10 months, or any additional excessive expenses from the remainder of his tenure.

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