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Committee Wants to View Pruitt Records 02/22 06:16

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Republican-led congressional committee is demanding 
records related to premium-class flights taken by Environmental Protection 
Agency chief Scott Pruitt.

   House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy issued a letter to Pruitt this week 
seeking an accounting of all flights taken by the EPA administrator over the 
last year and whether the ticket was coach, business or first class. Pruitt 
defended his use of premium-class airfare in media interviews earlier this 
month, saying security concerns were raised after unpleasant interactions with 
other passengers.

   The South Carolina Republican's letter sent Tuesday specifically cites the 
evolving explanations of EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox, who initially told 
reporters that Pruitt had a "blanket waiver" to fly first class before then 
saying separate waiver had been granted by ethics officials for each flight. 
Federal employees are typically supposed to fly coach, and travel rules such 
bar blanket waivers.

   "We will respond to Chairman Gowdy through the proper channel," Wilcox said 
Wednesday.

   Pruitt, the former GOP attorney general of Oklahoma, has been under 
increasing scrutiny for his jet setting since his appointment by President 
Donald Trump last year. Records show Pruitt's airfare is often several times 
more expensive than that of aides booked on the same flights.

   Gowdy's letter says the requested records are to be provided to his 
committee by March 6.

   "Federal regulations require government travelers to obtain approval or 
authorization from their agency to use accommodations other than coach-class 
when traveling on official business," Gowdy wrote. "Clearly, federal 
regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate 
disabilities or special needs."

   Pruitt said earlier this month he had some "incidents" on flights that 
necessitated his need for first-class seats. EPA has refused requests from The 
Associated Press to provide details of those incidents.

   "We live in a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues 
of the environment," Pruitt said in an interview with a New Hampshire 
newspaper. "We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the 
marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the 
(security) detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of 
threat."

   Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail, 
even inside the agency's secured headquarters in Washington. He has also taken 
other security precautions, including the addition of a $25,000 soundproof 
"privacy booth" inside his office to prevent eavesdropping on his phone calls 
and spending $3,000 to have his office swept for hidden listening devices.

   Pruitt has denied he played any role in purchasing the premium-class 
tickets, saying his chief of staff and EPA security had made those decisions.

   Federal regulations allow government travelers to fly business class or 
first class when no cheaper options are "reasonably available" or if there are 
exceptional security circumstances. However, past federal audits have found 
that those rules have been routinely violated by high-ranking government 
officials under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

   Pruitt's frequent government-funded travel, which records show has often 
included weekend layovers in his home state of Oklahoma, is already under 
review by EPA's internal watchdog.

   The use of luxury air travel by members of Trump's Cabinet has been 
attracting attention for months. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price 
was forced to resign in September following media reports he spent at least 
$400,000 in taxpayer funds on private jets for himself and his staff.

   A report recently released by the inspector general at the Department of 
Veterans Affairs found that Secretary David Shulkin and his staff made "false 
representations" to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on an 
11-day European trip that mixed business and sightseeing.


(KA)

 
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