Give the Trump administration credit. The president’s Cabinet secretaries have progressed from chartering ridiculously expensive private jets to merely buying ridiculously expensive first-class airline tickets.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward economy fares.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is the latest high-ranking administration official to get caught with his hand in the taxpayer cookie jar. The Washington Post reports that since taking the job almost a year ago, Pruitt has made a habit of flying business or first class, while past administrators made do with coach.
This has meant very expensive flights, such as the round-trip flight from Washington to New York last June that cost taxpayers more than $1,600, more than six times the cost of the seats in coach that two of Pruitt’s aides bought for the same flight.
The EPA claims the first-class seats are necessary for security purposes. The Post could not determine if Pruitt’s round-the-clock security detail, which always travels with him, also sits in first class.
Pruitt has also racked up thousands of dollars in first-class tickets to events and meetings all over the country. Perhaps most egregious are the trips to events near Tulsa, where he lives and where he would then spend weekends before returning to Washington.
The expensive flights are part of a pattern of secrecy and paranoia that has been part of Pruitt’s tenure from the beginning. In a break with past precedent, the EPA does not release Pruitt’s schedule ahead of time, again because of “unspecified security concerns.” He has famously had his office swept for bugs, installed biometric locks, and built a $25,000 soundproof booth for sensitive phone calls.
Even the receipts for his travel, which show that Pruitt also tends to stay in high-end hotels, were only obtained because a watchdog group sued for them.
Pruitt’s habits are also part of a pattern by high-level Trump administration officials to travel by the most expensive means possible. Tom Price lost his job as secretary of Health and Human Services over his habit of chartering private planes to take even the shortest trips. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has also come under fire for taking private flights.
Pruitt also was questioned about his penchant for chartering private jets last fall, around the time Price was fired. But why charter when you can buy first-class seats on the taxpayer dime? Apparently, the EPA administrator has learned that lesson well.