This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. EDT.
The U.S. EPA inspector general is planning to audit Administrator Scott Pruitt's travel back home to Oklahoma.
The agency's internal watchdog said in a notice today it plans to begin "preliminary research" on EPA adhering to policies and procedures regarding Pruitt's travel to Oklahoma.
"This assignment is being initiated based on congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all which expressed concerns about Administrator Pruitt's travel — primarily his frequent travel to and from his home state of Oklahoma at taxpayer expense," said the notice, which was signed by John Trefry, director of forensic audits for the IG's Office of Audit.
The audit's goals are to determine "the frequency, cost and extent" of Pruitt's trips to Oklahoma through July 31, whether policies and procedures were followed for that travel, and whether those policies are "sufficiently designed" to stop fraud, waste and abuse with the EPA chief's travel, according to the notice.
For the probe, auditors will review relevant documents and interview management and staff. The IG will work with EPA's Cincinnati Finance Center as well as its chief financial officer for the audit.
The watchdog expects to start its work on the audit of Pruitt's travel in late August.
An EPA spokeswoman defended Pruitt's travel, saying the administrator wanted to hear from those impacted by the agency's rules.
"Administrator Pruitt is traveling the country to hear directly from the people impacted by EPA's regulations outside of the Washington bubble. This is nothing more than a distraction from the administrator's significant environmental accomplishments," said Amy Graham, the EPA spokeswoman.
Pruitt's trips back home have come under scrutiny from environmental groups as well as Democrats on Capitol Hill. His Oklahoma travel has fueled speculation that Pruitt is preparing for a future run for elected office there.
The EPA administrator spent 43 of 92 days this past spring in Oklahoma, leading to airfare costs of more than $12,000, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Environmental Integrity Project. The group asked the EPA IG to review Pruitt's travel (E&E News PM, July 24).
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee also asked the agency watchdog to investigate the administrator's trips to Oklahoma (E&E Daily, July 31).
Inspector General Arthur Elkins sent a separate letter today to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the committee's ranking member, saying that his office "will undertake a systemic audit to review" regarding the agency's handling of Pruitt's travel.
EPA and Pruitt himself have defended his travel to Oklahoma. The EPA chief said in an interview with FOX 25, a local Oklahoma television station, that "an alt-EPA" was behind the research of his travel, noting "their facts are wrong" and "not accurate."
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