An email that suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise for a favored aide last month is roiling the agency.
In the last few days, top staffers became aware of an email exchange between one of two aides who received such a raise and the agency’s human resources division. In mid-March, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to the administrator, wrote to HR in an attempt to confirm that her pay raise of $56,765 was being processed. Greenwalt “definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise,” according to an administration official who has seen the email chain.
A second administration official confirmed the exchange. The email “essentially says, ‘The administrator said that I should get this raise,’” the official told me. Both spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private correspondence. A request for comment sent to an EPA spokesman was not immediately returned.
The email began floating around the agency’s top ranks after the EPA’s Inspector General expanded its inquiry into Pruitt’s hiring practices to include the raises, according to the two administration officials. In early March, as first reported by The Atlantic, Pruitt requested hefty salary bumps for Greenwalt and his director of scheduling, Millan Hupp. When the White House refused to sign off on the raises—$56,765 and $28,130, respectively–Pruitt used an obscure hiring authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act to grant them anyway. The provision, which allows the EPA’s administrator to appoint up to 30 staffers without White House or congressional approval, was intended to help the agency bring on experts and staff up especially-stressed offices. Greenwalt and Hupp’s raises went into effect on April 1, according to HR documents obtained by The Atlantic.
Now, the agency’s IG is probing whether Pruitt abused that hiring authority. On Wednesday, Pruitt was pressed by Fox News’s Ed Henry to respond to The Atlantic’s report, but denied any knowledge of the episode. “You didn’t know they got these pay raises?” Henry asked. “I didn’t know they got the pay raises until yesterday,” Pruitt responded.
“My jaw dropped when he said that,” said the first administration official. The perception that Pruitt had gone on TV and lied, the official said, was what really scared people inside the agency.