Since then, numerous outlets have reported that Pruitt's unorthodox travel habits don't just include trips to Oklahoma, but that the administrator tends to fly first class or business class when he travels for official government business - a significant departure from his predecessors.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency has broken months of silence about his frequent premium-class flights at taxpayer expense, saying he needs to fly first class because of unpleasant interactions with other travelers.
It seemed like it could be the great mystery of our time: What unspecified threats require Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Scott Pruitt to fly nearly exclusively in business or first class?
"Unfortunately, ... we've had some incidents on travel dating back to when I first started serving in the March-April timeframe", Pruitt told the New Hampshire Union Leader.
Pruitt was spotted on flight to Boston Tuesday morning - in first class - and in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader, he talked about the security risks that resulted in the waivers for the more expensive classes of flights. "We've reached the point where there's not much civility in the marketplace and it's created, you know, it's created some issues and the [security] detail, the level of protection is determined by the level of threat". That figure does not account for the costs of Pruitt's round-the-clock security detail, which have not been disclosed. The inspector general is also investigating reports that Pruitt spent $25,000 on a soundproof "privacy booth" for his office. Pruitt's ticket cost six times what EPA paid for his aides seated in coach. A representative of Pruitt's security team could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to federal regulations, agencies can authorize first-class travel only in specific and rare circumstances, including if the flight is at least 14 hours, if the government official has a medical disability, or when security officers determine that the "use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property", the Post reported. On the way back from Milan, Pruitt traveled via Emirates airline, whose business-class cabins, CBS News notes, "are some of the world's most luxurious, complete with an onboard lounge that promises what the airline calls a 'truly unique journey.'" The entire trip, including a ride on a military aircraft that whisked Pruitt from Cincinnati to his departing flight to Rome, cost more than $43,000, according to travel vouchers viewed by the Environmental Integrity Project.
Expensive travel frequently trips up high-profile public employees. EPA has said all of those flights were necessary and pre-approved by ethics lawyers.
Meanwhile, the White House's budget proposal for EPA released earlier this week seeks to cut $3.7 million, or 9 percent, in funding for Elkins' office.
"Without sufficient resources, we would not be able to take on many discretionary audits and investigations that the OIG believes yield considerable value and return on investment", Kaplan said.