Reports have followed every lead into the inner workings of Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in recent weeks in a dogged way largely absent during the previous administration.
Environmentalists and sympathetic journalists have aggressively gone after stories related to Pruitt’s flying first class, condo rental, decision on raises and security detail. In the past couple weeks, hardly a day has gone by without a negative development about Pruitt’s tenure at EPA.
Environmental groups are hard at work filing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on Pruitt’s travel and security spending. EPA and White House sources have been leaking information to eager reporters.
But where was this interest in the personal goings on of EPA administrators during the Obama administration? Obama administration EPA heads had their own controversies the media largely ignored.
Former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill after The Daily Caller News Foundation revealed in November 2012 she used a false identity to correspond with administration officials.
Jackson emailed under “Richard Windsor,” a fake identity, which lawmakers worried could be used to circumvent transparency laws. It’s really hard to justify using a fake name for official work unless it’s to avoid records requests.
Competitive Enterprise Institute’s (CEI) Chris Horner discovered Jackson’s use of an alias while writing his book on the Obama administration’s lack of transparency. It turns out Jackson also used her email to communicate with the White House and outside activists.
Jackson’s successor, Gina McCarthy, had her own transparency problems. EPA’s inspector general found in December 2016 McCarthy deleted all but one of the 5,000 text messages on her government phone, in violation of federal records laws.
In fact, the report found EPA only archived 86 of 3.1 million text messages sent and received in 2015. Investigators were only alerted to the possibility McCarthy hadn’t preserved her text messages because of a lawsuit the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed.
The “[d]efendant has decided to formally notify the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) about the potential loss of federal records relating to text messages,” EPA admitted in court.
Both Jackson and McCarthy also spent nearly $1 million on flights overseas, but no one was requesting records for their flights.
Pruitt is under fire for spending more than $100,000 on first class travel during his first year, including a flight to the G7 summit in Italy. The Italy flight alone cost $120,000, including security and it being a military flight.
However, Lisa Jackson spent $155,000 on a flight for her and her security detail to China in 2011. McCarthy spent $90,000 on a 2015 trip to Dubai.
But it is difficult to get a truly apples-to-apples comparison of travel costs between Pruitt and past administrators. Why? Because we don’t have domestic travel costs for past administrators or the costs of military flights they may have taken.
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