President Donald Trump’s chief health advisor, Tom Price, was recently forced to resign when it was revealed that he had wasted more than a million dollars of taxpayer’s money on private plane travel. Yet, Scott Pruitt has also been brazenly wasting taxpayer money in ways that might be even worse.
As head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt has spent more than $900,000 on expensive flights, unnecessary upgrades to his office, and a 24-hour security team. In addition to spending far more than his predecessors, Pruitt’s extravagant purchases have all served the same purpose: hiding him and his actions from the American people.
Pruitt’s wasteful spending is appalling, totaling more than 15 times the median household income in United States. Since June, he has spent more than $58,000 on just four charter flights, and now EPA’s internal watchdog is investigating all of his travel for more wasteful spending. He’s also putting almost $25,000 dollars of taxpayer’s money towards a “privacy booth” in his office, which he claims he needs to ensure soundproof, secure communications. Former EPA officials, meanwhile, called the move “bizarre” and a “head-scratcher.” And his security detail cost more than $830,000 in just his first three months – twice what security cost for the two prior EPA heads. Of course, all this could just be the tip of the iceberg; given Pruitt’s secrecy, it’s impossible to know just how much taxpayer money he’s wasting.
It’s not just the amount that Pruitt is spending that’s so egregious, but why he’s spending it. All of Pruitt’s expenses put barriers between himself and the public. He’s consistently worked to keep his schedule and activities a secret to make it easier for him to hand out giveaways to his well-connected corporate friends. Recently, Pruitt was finally forced to disclose his calendar. The records confirmed what we all suspected: he’s been meeting almost every day with corporate executives and industry lobbyists, and spending virtually no time with consumer or public health advocates, let alone environmental groups.
Pruitt has also frequented industry events at expensive resorts, and industry executives and lobbyists have gotten their money’s worth in terms of access and influence. After meeting with the CEO of Dow Chemical, Pruitt took the company’s side over his own scientists and refused to ban a pesticide that can damage children’s brain development. After meeting with a Canadian mining company, he cleared the way for them to build a new mine, reversing a previous decision by the EPA. And he’s trying to make it harder for federal law enforcement to force companies to clean up toxic sites they have polluted. These moves, and many more like it, are no surprise given the close relationship Pruitt had with industry when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general.
Pruitt has good reason to keep close ties with industry executives, given that he appears to be preparing for another political run in Oklahoma. Of his first 92 days in his new job, he spent close to half of them in Oklahoma or in transit to and from the state, costing taxpayers thousands. He also tried to speak at an Oklahoma Republican fundraising event, although he backed off that plan when people drew attention to the fact that it might violate federal law.
It’s pretty clear what’s going on. As Attorney General Drew Edmondson noted, “He’s doing what he needs to do to keep the oil companies and gas companies liking him, so he has a source of funding should he decide to run.”
But while Pruitt lavishes attention on potential donors, he has spent little time looking out for the well-being of everybody else. Tom Price stepped down when it was revealed he was abusing his office and wasting taxpayer money. Why hasn’t Scott Pruitt?
Sam Berger is the senior policy advisor at the Center for American Progress. Claire Moser is the senior campaign manager for climate at the Center.