02.15.18

Peters and Carper Press Agencies on Scott Pruitt’s Lavish Taxpayer-Funded Travel

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management Subcommittee and Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, sent letters today pressing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the General Services Administration (GSA) on recent reports of wasteful spending on excessive, taxpayer-funded travel by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his staff.

“Administrator Pruitt’s frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma, expensive international travel that is inconsistent with EPA’s mission, and previous use of military aircraft to conduct official business suggests a pattern of wasteful spending that merits heightened scrutiny,” the Senators wrote. “We are alarmed that taxpayers are funding these considerable expenses, which demonstrate a clear disregard for the executive branch’s responsibility to use tax dollars efficiently.”

A recent report by the Washington Post found that Pruitt has incurred exorbitant travel costs by purchasing first-class airfare, including a series of trips totaling $90,000 in June 2017. A similar report from CBS News suggests that Pruitt has been issued a “blanket waiver” to fly first-class, even though more cost-effective options are available and federal regulations appear to prohibit such waivers.

Peters and Carper requested detailed accounts from the EPA and GSA to determine whether Administrator Pruitt and his staff are in compliance with federal regulations requiring executive branch employees to use tax dollars responsibly when traveling to conduct official business.

The text of the letters is copied below and available here and here.

February 15, 2018

 

Mike Flynn

Acting Deputy Administrator

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20460

Dear Mr. Flynn:

We write with concern that senior Trump Administration officials continue to waste taxpayer money on extravagant and unnecessary travel.  Recently, the Washington Post exposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s unusual travel expenses, including the regular purchase of first-class airfare when more cost-effective options were readily available. The Washington Post report documents frequent and costly taxpayer-funded first-class travel, including a series of trips totaling nearly $90,000 in June 2017 alone.  The Administrator is reported to have obtained a so-called “blanket waiver” that permits him to travel in first or business class when conducting official business, even though federal regulations appear to require these determinations be made on a trip-by-trip basis.  These reports also indicate that EPA staff traveling with Administrator Pruitt may have failed to comply with regulations that generally require executive branch employees to travel on flights at less expensive, pre-negotiated rates, known as city-pair fares.

These reports are the latest in a number of instances involving Administrator Pruitt’s abuse of tax dollars for expensive travel, which are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the EPA Office of Inspector General.  Although EPA officials have said that the agency seeks “the most cost-efficient travel options at all times,” Administrator Pruitt’s frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma, expensive international travel that is inconsistent with EPA’s mission, and previous use of military aircraft to conduct official business suggests a pattern of wasteful spending that merits heightened scrutiny.  We are alarmed that taxpayers are funding these considerable expenses, which demonstrate a clear disregard for the executive branch’s responsibility to use tax dollars efficiently. 

The Federal Travel Regulation generally requires government employees to travel coach when conducting official business and outlines the specific circumstances in which agencies may authorize other than coach-class travel.  Federal agencies must also submit specific exception codes to justify the use of first- or business-class air travel when reporting this information to the General Services Administration (GSA).  Exceptions that permit the purchase of first- or business-class fares include situations when no coach-class accommodations are reasonably available, special needs, exceptional security circumstances, or agency mission requirements.

According to EPA records, first- or business-class travel has routinely been authorized for Administrator Pruitt during his tenure due to “exceptional security circumstances,” and the Administrator has traveled first-class to such destinations as Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Little Rock, as well as on a multi-destination trip to Colorado, Iowa, North Dakota, and Texas that incurred almost $11,000 in first-class fare costs.  In other instances, however, these same EPA records show that the Administrator traveled coach to conduct official business on numerous occasions in 2017. 

In order for Congress to better understand EPA’s compliance with federal statutes and regulations when authorizing Administrator Pruitt’s travel activities, as well as the rate at which the Administrator has spent taxpayer dollars on official travel, we respectfully ask for answers to the following questions as soon as possible and no later than March 9, 2018:

  1. Please provide a description of how EPA determines there to be “exceptional security circumstances” that justify the use of other than coach-class accommodations, defined by GSA as being circumstances in which “use of coach-class accommodations would endanger your life or government property.”
  2. By what process did the EPA authorize a so-called “blanket waiver” for Administrator Pruitt to travel by default in first or business class, and how does any sort of blanket authorization comply with the Federal Travel Regulation?
  3. Is there a process to periodically review and reauthorize this “blanket waiver” for Administrator Pruitt’s travel?  If so, please provide an explanation of this process.
  4. Please provide the total number of trips for which other than coach-class travel has been authorized for Administrator Pruitt, the itinerary for each trip, and the GSA-required travel exception codes (e.g., F3, B2, etc.) that were submitted for each of those trips.
  5. Agency records show that Administrator Pruitt flew coach several times on official travel between March and May 2017.  Please explain why coach-class travel was determined to have been appropriate in these cases and why the “exceptional security circumstances” exception was not used.
  6. If the Administrator is authorized to travel on other than coach-class accommodations, to what extent does the EPA authorize other than coach-class travel for accompanying agency staff?
  7. To what extent are Administrator Pruitt’s flights and those of his accompanying staff arranged using the GSA City Pair Program?
  8. If the Administrator is authorized to travel for official business on a non-contract city-pair flight, to what extent does the EPA authorize travel for accompanying agency staff on the same flight when a less expensive city-pair flight is otherwise available?
  9. On June 5, 2017, agency records show that Administrator Pruitt flew first-class from Washington, DC to New York City at a round-trip cost of $1,641, accompanied by at least two EPA employees.  Please confirm whether these flights were the approved contract city-pair flights for that route.  If not, please provide an explanation of why the non-contract city-pair flights were authorized.
  10. On July 6, 2017, agency records show that the Administrator flew from Washington, DC to Birmingham, AL at a round-trip cost of $2,544.  Please confirm whether any other EPA employees accompanied the Administrator on these flights and whether these flights were the approved city-pair flights for that route.  If not, please provide an explanation of why the non-contract city-pair flights were authorized.
  11. Please provide any and all travel records for any trips authorized by the EPA in which EPA employees accompanied Administrator Pruitt on non-contract city-pair flights.

Thank you for your efforts to ensure that the EPA is acting as a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars and complying with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations regarding the approval of official travel. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.

February 15, 2018 

 

The Honorable Emily W. Murphy

Administrator

General Services Administration

1800 F Street, NW

Washington, DC 20405

 

Dear Ms. Murphy:

We write with concern that senior Trump Administration officials continue to waste taxpayer money on extravagant and unnecessary travel.  Recently, the Washington Post exposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s unusual travel expenses, including the regular purchase of first-class airfare when more cost-effective options were readily available. The Washington Post report documents frequent and costly taxpayer-funded first-class travel, including a series of trips totaling nearly $90,000 in June 2017 alone.  The Administrator is reported to have obtained a so-called “blanket waiver” that permits him to travel in first or business class when conducting official business, even though federal regulations appear to require these determinations be made on a trip-by-trip basis.  These reports also indicate that EPA staff traveling with Administrator Pruitt may have failed to comply with regulations that generally require executive branch employees to travel on flights at less expensive, pre-negotiated rates, known as city-pair fares.

These reports are the latest in a number of instances involving Administrator Pruitt’s abuse of tax dollars for expensive travel, which are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the EPA Office of Inspector General.  Administrator Pruitt’s frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma, expensive international travel that is inconsistent with EPA’s mission, and previous use of military aircraft to conduct official business suggests a pattern of wasteful spending that merits heightened scrutiny.  We are alarmed that taxpayers are funding these considerable expenses, which demonstrate a clear disregard for the executive branch’s responsibility to use tax dollars efficiently. 

As the agency responsible for drafting and communicating the federal travel regulations across the executive branch, the General Services Administration (GSA) plays an essential role in ensuring that Administrator Pruitt and all federal employees use taxpayer dollars responsibly.  These reports detailing Administrator Pruitt’s travel raise concerns about whether the EPA is complying with regulations that require government travelers to “exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business when making official travel arrangements.” 

In the interest of safeguarding taxpayer funds, the Federal Travel Regulation (FTR) generally requires the use of government city-pair fares to conduct official business and provides guidance on the specific, narrow circumstances in which agencies may authorize first or business class travel.  In order to determine EPA’s compliance with these policies and regulations when planning and authorizing the travel activities of Administrator Pruitt and his staff, please provide answers to the following questions as soon as possible and no later than March 9, 2018:

  1. Although EPA documents show that Administrator Pruitt flew coach on several occasions between March and May 2017, in other instances, other than coach-class travel for the Administrator was authorized due to “exceptional security circumstances.”  To what extent are agencies required to document or explain the specific nature of the security concern that justifies the other than coach-class fare?
  1. As the agency responsible for promulgating the federal travel regulations, under what circumstances does GSA consider the issuance of a so-called “blanket waiver” that authorizes a traveler to travel in first or business class by default, as Administrator Pruitt has supposedly received, to be compliant with these regulations?  Does GSA expect determinations about other than coach-class travel to be made on a case-by-case basis? 
  1. Pursuant to the FTR, agencies are required to report annually to GSA on each instance of other than coach-class travel authorized and paid for by the agency.  Agencies must submit this information to GSA in full no later than 60 days after the end of each fiscal year, which includes, among other data points, the specific reason other than coach-class travel was authorized and the cost of the comparable coach class fare.  Please confirm that EPA submitted this information to GSA for Fiscal Year 2017 in full and on time.  If not, please provide EPA’s explanation for any delay in submission or omission of information.
  1. Please provide a complete copy of EPA’s reported information on the use of other than coach-class transportation accommodations for Fiscal Year 2017.
  1. In order to reduce costs, the FTR generally requires federal employees to use contract city-pair airfares to conduct official travel. Exceptions to this policy are limited to certain exigent circumstances when the use of city-pair fares would incur otherwise excessive expenses. 
  1. What obligations do federal agencies have to justify and report travel on non city-pair flights?
  1. Should a senior agency official elect to travel using a non city-pair flight, under what circumstances would it be appropriate for accompanying agency staff to travel on the same flight where a less expensive city-pair flight is otherwise available?

We appreciate GSA’s role as an effective partner in overseeing executive branch travel expenditures.  Thank you for your attention to this matter, and we look forward to your prompt response.