House Republicans on Wednesday afternoon blocked an effort by Democrats to increase funding for the agency’s watchdog, which is tasked with investigating the many scandals surrounding agency administrator Scott Pruitt.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) has in recent months seen an increased workload due to the more than a dozen investigations launched into Pruitt’s spending and management decisions during his first year as administrator.
But voting along party-lines 21-26, Republicans rejected an amendment introduced by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) to increase the OIG’s funding for 2019. “It’s hard to imagine that there is a more overworked inspector general than at the EPA these days,” Pocan said. “This is not a Democrat/Republican thing, this should be a good government thing.”
The vote comes after it was reported in February that the OIG did not have enough money to properly investigate Pruitt’s travel expenses, noting it would have to limit its probe to 2017, leaving out the administrator’s continued use of business and first class flights in 2018.
According to a letter sent at the time by EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins, the president’s proposed budget for OIG would “substantially inhibit the OIG from performing the duties of the office.” The letter was sent before the onslaught of scandals revealed since news of Pruitt’s sweetheart condo deal broke in March.
Since then, a slew of other federal investigations have been launched into Pruitt’s ethics controversies. The scandals being examined by the OIG include the administrator’s rental deal for a condo tied to an energy lobbyist, his use of a loophole to approve significant pay raises for two of his aides, and his four-day trip to Morocco to promote natural gas.
And just this week, more controversies emerged. Pruitt reportedly asked one of his aides, Millan Hupp, (who resigned on Wednesday) to carry out personal tasks for him, including hunting down a used mattress from Trump Hotel in D.C. Pruitt also reportedly asked an aide to set up a call with the chairman of Chick-fil-A to discuss his wife, Marlyn Pruitt, setting up a franchise.
Both of this week’s reports have raised new questions about whether Pruitt broke federal ethics law and used public office for personal gain.
The House Interior-EPA spending package would give the OIG just over $50 million in funding, roughly the same as it’s been given for 2018. The Democrats’ proposed increase would have added $12 million. Ken Calvert (R-CA), the Interior-EPA appropriations chairman, said the bill “already includes robust support for EPA’s inspector general.”