WASHINGTON — Scott Pruitt, who was in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration, repeatedly pressured his federal security officers to drive routine trips at excessive and sometimes dangerous speeds, with sirens and emergency lights on, because he had to run late, according to a federal report released Thursday.
The security officers said they knew this was a violation of federal policy and “endangered public safety,” the report said. One of the incidents cited in the report was a trip in 2017 where a special agent drove Mr. Pruitt with lights and sirens in the wrong direction into oncoming traffic to pick up Mr. Pruitt’s dry cleaners, when Mr. Pruitt was late for a desk meeting.
“Can you use that magic button to get us through traffic?” Mr Pruitt would solicit members of his security detail, the report said. He would say “speed it up” or “we need to get there faster,” orders the security officers said they found “hard to ignore,” even though the lights and sirens would only be used in emergencies, it said.
Reports of this misuse of lights and sirens first became public in 2018, along with other allegations of wrongdoing by Mr. Pruitt, including first-class travel back to his home in Oklahoma on government-paid flights and misuse of government funds to build. a $43,000 soundproofed payphone in his office. They eventually led to his resignation in July 2018.
But until now, an internal EPA report substantiating allegations of the misuse of lights and sirens on his government-issued car had never been made public, even though it was completed a month before Mr. Pruitt stepped down.
Mr. Pruitt, who now serves as a Republican for the United States Senate in Oklahoma and was previously the state’s attorney general, did not respond to a request for comment.
The report, by the EPA’s criminal enforcement division, was released Thursday as part of a letter the U.S. Office of Special Counsel sent to President Biden summarizing the findings of several years of EPA investigations into allegations against four federal government whistleblowers. †
mr. Pruitt “was engaged in inappropriate and excessive spending of agency funds on travel and security; used his official position for his personal benefit and the personal benefit of certain EPA staffers; and endangered public safety,” the letter said, citing complaints filed by the whistleblowers, who were one-time employees of an employment agency.
Special counsel Henry J. Kerner told Mr. Biden that investigations had “substantiated many of the whistleblower’s allegations of misconduct by former administrator Pruitt and by the EPA”
The EPA’s inspector general released a report in 2019 confirming that Mr. Pruitt had spent nearly $124,000 on “excessive” travel arrangements, including first-class flights and visits to his Oklahoma home. The report recommended that the agency try to get the money back, though the EPA said it had no intention of doing so.
The Government Accountability Office had separately concluded in 2018 that the construction of the soundproof booth, which Mr. Pruitt planned to use to conduct secret talks, violated federal law because the expenditure had not been properly budgeted.
But the formal investigation by the EPA’s Criminal Division into the improper use of lights and sirens on federal government cars — an investigation that included interviews with at least five EPA special agents, as well as Mr. Pruitt’s Deputy Chief of Staff — was never released.
Many of the officers told investigators that they had been pressured by Mr. Pruitt to use the lights and sirens, describing him as “perennially late and successful in persuading younger agents” to violate the agencies’ policies. that they are only used in emergencies.
“Just because the manager is late for an appointment doesn’t mean we’re going to randomly turn on lights and sirens to get him to his next appointment on time,” an agent told investigators. These demands included racing through a four-block trip to the White House from agency headquarters, as well as a trip to Colorado, with a former deputy chief of staff to Mr. Pruitt describing driving with sirens and lights as “overly obnoxious, exaggerated.” , and more dangerous for everyone.”
Concern over these demands became so great that a member of the security service refused to turn on the lights and sirens and was subsequently removed from his job, the investigators found. “The caretaker was visibly upset and was silent in the car for an awkward amount of time,” the report said, noting that after the officer was moved, the message to staff was clear.
“If you didn’t carry out the administrator’s order, you would lose your job,” the investigative report said, citing a special agent.
Finally, an agency supervisor told Mr Pruitt’s security detail members “to turn off/unplug the lights and sirens so they wouldn’t use them because the administrator will still instruct them to be used, but the agent can say they are not working,” the report said. The agency now requires any violations of the siren policy to be reported internally.
The names of the four whistleblowers were not disclosed in the letter to Mr. Biden, and an EPA spokeswoman said the agency, now under new leadership, had no comment on the matter. But Kevin Chmielewski, a former political aide to President Donald J. Trump and Mr. Pruitt, confirmed to DailyExpertNews that he was one of the whistleblowers.
He is still suing the EPA with the help of a nonprofit whistleblower group called the Government Accountability Project, though the Justice Department, even under Mr. Biden, is trying to dismiss the case. The ministry has argued that the agency will not give him back his job as a political appointee now that the Trump administration is over.
Mr Chmielewski said he was pleased to see these new details finally made public, but was disappointed that Mr Pruitt had paid no price other than to damage his reputation.
“It’s almost a kick in the face,” said Mr Chmielewski, 43, who said he has not been able to land a new job in the federal government or national political campaigns since he first made the allegations public in 2018. works as the general manager of a restaurant near Ocean City, Maryland, earning less than a third of his former federal government wages.