U.S. News

EPA inspector general opens new probe into Pruitt's travels

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Environmental Protection Agency’s inspector general will investigate agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s use of his official security detail on recent personal trips, the latest in a string of congressional, White House and internal probes into his spending on security and travel.

FILE PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview at his office in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

The investigation comes at the request of Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, he announced on Thursday, a month after he asked Inspector General Arthur Elkins to look into Pruitt’s “unprecedented use” of his taxpayer-funded security detail documented in six weeks of obtained schedules and travel logs.

“While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious, personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment,” Whitehouse said.

Destinations to which Pruitt was accompanied by his personal security detail included Disneyland, the Rose Bowl football tournament and college basketball games.

The senator also noted that Pruitt frequently requested per diem lodging expenses above the federal government’s established daily rate.

Elkins told Whitehouse in a letter saying he will launch the probe that the new review will be separate from other ongoing audits of Pruitt’s travel, which include frequent trips to his home state of Oklahoma and one to Morocco, where he promoted U.S. natural gas exports to the North African country

“We have determined that the issues raised in your letter are within the authority of the OIG to review, and we will do so,” Elkins said.

On Wednesday, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said he would investigate Pruitt’s decision to spend $43,000 to build a private, secure phone booth for his office.

On the same day, dozens of Democratic U.S. senators called on Pruitt to resign over the allegations of ethical lapses.

The EPA chief has also come under fire for renting a room in a Washington condo owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist.

(This version of the story removes incorrect reference to price of room rental in final paragraph)

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Jonathan Oatis