The move by the EPA inspector general's office to audit the costs of agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's flights home -- a fraction of the tax money House and Senate members spend going home on weekends and long recesses -- is coming under fire.
Reacting to the audit announcement, Pruitt's hometown newspaper, the Tulsa World, mocked in an editorial, "Heaven forfend! Scott Pruitt is going home on weekends!"
Allies, meanwhile, have suggested politics are at play since the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general, Arthur A. Elkins, Jr., is a holdover from the Obama administration and was supported for the job by his senator, Maryland's Ben Cardin, who criticized Pruitt's nomination.
According to a watchdog group, Pruitt spent $12,000 and 43 days over three months traveling to speeches and events often through Tulsa to see his family. His staff has said official business was involved. Other reports put the cost at $15,000.
Environmental groups jumped on the report, with one calling Pruitt a "truant."
The watchdog group, the Environmental Integrity Project, produced a spreadsheet of Pruitt's travel that showed business purposes for all but one trip.
Pruitt does not fly on a government jet. For perspective, lawmakers spent an annual high of $195,000 each flying home, according to the latest government report on personal spending. Pruitt's spending was about 8 percent of that.
Former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid spent $147,769 flying home to Nevada way back in 2012. The current average bill to taxpayers for each member's trips home is $52,000 a year.
The IG said it was acting on a demand from Congress and a hotline tip. "This assignment is being initiated based on congressional requests and a hotline complaint, all of 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 announcement.
It said it would begin the audit later this month and raised the possibility of "fraud, waste and abuse."
Conservatives have cheered Pruitt's moves so far to push forward with President Trump's demand to eliminate costly regulations that do little to improve the environment.
But he has faced stiff resistance from inside the agency that under President Obama moved fast to impose regulations on businesses. Democratic lawmakers have also been highly critical of Pruitt, especially over the administration's withdrawal from the Paris climate deal.
The Tulsa World called the audit a "fishing expedition" pushed by anti-Trump media, such as the New York Times, and Washington liberals who sneer at those outside the Beltway.
"As outrages go, it's not worth much," it editorialized. "The Washington press corps and the environmental lobby might prefer that the EPA boss be held captive on the East Coast and that he hear nothing but the opinions of ‘green' lobbyists, but the people out in fly-over country like it when we're being heard, too," it added.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org