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Watchdog: EPA Chief of Staff Approved Raises for Top Aides

Image: Watchdog: EPA Chief of Staff Approved Raises for Top Aides

Monday, 16 April 2018 09:35 AM

EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's chief of staff signed off on controversial raises worth tens of thousands of dollars each for three employees, the agency's internal watchdog said in an interim report set to be released Monday. 

The Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general says documents show Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson authorized those salary increases using an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act, according to a draft of the report obtained by Bloomberg News.

That buttresses Jackson's assertion last week that he, not Pruitt, was responsible for the raises -- and that the EPA administrator had no knowledge of the amount of the increases nor the method by which they came about. In authorizing the raises, the EPA effectively overruled White House officials who had objected to at least two of the salary increases.

Pruitt asserted that he did not authorize the raises and did not know who did in a Fox News interview earlier this month. "It should not have been done," Pruitt said in the interview that aired April 4. "There will be some accountability."

The so-called "management alert" being issued Monday is tied to the inspector general's ongoing probe of how the EPA has used its authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to fill up to 30 "administratively determined" positions.

The inspector general did not make any judgment about the appropriateness of the actions or say whether Pruitt knew about the raises. The alert "does not represent any conclusions or recommendations," Inspector General Arthur A. Elkins Jr. said in the memo.

The inspector general said it expected to issue a final report by April 16.

“We welcome any review of hiring practices" under the Safe Water Drinking Act and are cooperating with the inspector general, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said.

Completed personnel forms contained in the inspector general's alert show that Jackson signed off on the salary increases in two places: both under "action requested by Ryan T. Jackson, chief of staff" and under "action authorized by E. Scott Pruitt, administrator." In the second, authorization box, Jackson signed "Ryan Jackson for Scott Pruitt."

Pruitt did sign off on the initial decision to hire the three aides, according to included forms. Based on information contained in the documents and other details, they are believed to be Director of Scheduling and Advance Millan Hupp, Senior Counsel Sarah Greenwalt and Samantha Dravis, a former associate administrator of the EPA Office of Policy.

Hupp and Greenwalt both worked for Pruitt when he was Oklahoma's attorney general. And Dravis came to the EPA after serving with Pruitt as general counsel of the Republican Attorneys General Association.

The changes in salary have now been reversed and future salary change requests will be submitted through the Office of Presidential Personnel for evaluation, Jackson said in a written statement last week.

Separately, the EPA defended its decision to install a soundproof privacy booth in Pruitt's office at a cost of $43,238, in a letter to the Government Accountability Office obtained by Bloomberg News. The GAO is expected to make public a report on the secure communications booth as soon as Monday.

The expenditure did not run afoul of law requiring congressional notification for expenditures of more than $5,000 for improvements to an agency head's office because it was needed for official agency business, Kevin Minoli, the EPA's principal deputy general counsel, wrote in a March 23 letter to the GAO.

A former EPA employee told lawmakers Pruitt surpassed the $5,000 budget he was given to redecorate his office by purchasing an additional standing desk, paying to rent art from the Smithsonian Institution and framing an 8-by-10-foot American flag.

Some security-related spending on Pruitt's office was considered outside the $5,000 limitation, according to emails released to the watchdog group American Oversight under an open records request.

© Copyright 2018 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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EPA Chief Scott Pruitt's chief of staff signed off on controversial raises worth tens of thousands of dollars each for three employees, the agency's internal watchdog said in an interim report set to be released Monday.
epa, report, raises
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2018-35-16
Monday, 16 April 2018 09:35 AM
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