The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog on Thursday said it found former EPA head Scott Pruitt spent $124,000 in taxpayer dollars on premium travel for himself and his bodyguards during a 10-month period, according to a report released Thursday.
The EPA Office of the Inspector General rejected Pruitt’s claims that his first-and business-class travels were warranted because of security concerns.
“The former administrator and his accompanying agents incurred more travel costs than necessary or appropriate by flying first/business class,” the report from the 22-month audit said.
The watchdog took issue with 16 trips to Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Okla., where he maintained a private residence, and a $16,000 trip to Morocco. The audit also found that Pruitt’s lodging expenses exceeded per-diem limits.
Pruitt resigned last year amid ethics questions. He previously denied using taxpayer funds for premium travel or otherwise abusing his office.
Pruitt said the travel expenses were justified because of travelers confronting him during trips. The inspector general looked at 40 trips during Pruitt’s tenure that cost almost $1 million, of which $430,000 was spent on security alone.
Pruitt was the first EPA chief said to require round-the-clock protection.
The EPA, currently headed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, disagreed with many of the report's conclusions. In a statement, it said the travel expenses were warranted and that seeking reimbursement would be "inappropriate."
The agency said Pruitt, who works as a consultant for coal companies, needed tighter security because of threats. Some of his security precautions included tactical gear for his bodyguards and a $43,000 soundproof booth for calls in his office.
The report said the EPA failed to document specific threats that warranted an extra layer of security and noted: "The agency could not provide documentation to support that the former administrator's life was endangered when flying coach class."
The report came as a result of complaints and inquiries into Pruitt’s travel habits, the inspector general said. Investigators recommended the EPA strengthen controls to prevent wasteful spending and fraud.
Other Trump administration officials have also been accused of unnecessary or excessive spending of taxpayer funds. Tom Price, the former head of the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned amid accusations that he'd used charters and military aircraft for government travel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.