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US ethics office urges EPA inspector to expand, expedite Pruitt probe

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has asked the inspector general of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to widen the scope of and speed up its probe into multiple ethics violation allegations involving Administrator Scott Pruitt's activities.

In a June 15 letter to the EPA inspector's office, OGE Acting Director and General Counsel David Apol noted that more alleged scandals have emerged in recent months that should be added to the inspector general's already ongoing investigations.

Pruitt is the subject of more than a dozen congressional and EPA inspector general investigations. The inspector's review currently includes whether Pruitt breached federal standards of conduct for executive branch employees through his spending on security and first-class travel and by renting a condo at a discount rate from the wife of a lobbyist, the letter said.

But since April, which was the last time the OGE wrote the inspector general about the probe, new media reports have raised additional questions about Pruitt's use of staff time to search for housing and furniture, run personal errands on official time, and to secure a business opportunity for his wife with Chick-fil-A, Apol said in the letter.

"These reports raise concerns about whether the administrator misused his position," Apol wrote.

Apol further urged the inspector general's office to complete its report as soon as possible so that the OGE can decide whether to begin a formal corrective action proceeding to make a recommendation to President Donald Trump.

"The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and properly addressed," the letter said. "The efficacy of, and public trust in, our government demands it."

The OGE is an independent agency that effectively operates as the government ethics watchdog with most of its activities centered around preventing ethics violations. The OGE offers training for new government officials, collects financial disclosure filings from executive branch political nominees for Congressional oversight, reaches agreements with government officials to remedy possible ethics violations, and makes recommendations on its own investigations into some matters. But the OGE itself does not have any enforcement authority. That responsibility falls under individual agency inspectors general and the U.S. Justice Department.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.