EPA Cooperated in House Science Panel's Air Travel Probe

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By Anthony Adragna

Aug. 3 — Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency cooperated with the House Science, Space and Technology Committee's probe into air travel habits at the agency, documents show.

In March, EPA employees provided the committee with hundreds of pages concerning agency policies and procedures related to airplane travel, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Then, several weeks later, the agency sent travel records and authorizations for Janet McCabe, the EPA's top air official. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the committee, had questioned her “commitment toward furthering the reduction of carbon emissions” because she routinely flies home to Indiana on the weekends.

A committee spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment on whether the responses were sufficient.

Significant Congressional Interest

Airline travel habits of EPA employees have emerged as a surprise area of interest in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Smith first questioned the agency's travel habits in a February letter where he asserted McCabe's regular travel home was at odds with the EPA's goals of carbon pollution reduction. He followed up the first letter several weeks later with a second, reiterating his request and threatening to subpoena the information.

Democratic staff condemned the letters as an abuse of committee authority, while the EPA told Bloomberg BNA that McCabe pays for personal travel costs and remains “fully committed” to the agency's mission.

Then, during the July debate on the EPA funding measure, Rep. Rich Hudson (R-N.C.) introduced an amendment that would ban all agency employees from any official travel by airline. It never received a floor vote.

EPA Habits Detailed

An interesting bit of information contained in the responses is that two EPA employees reported commuting to their jobs by airplane in an anonymous 2014 survey. Those employees were the only ones out of 6,944 who responded to report commuting that way.

“As a general matter, the government is not responsible for providing transportation to or from an employee's duty station ... and, therefore, the EPA does not have information on how every employee commutes,” David Bloom, EPA deputy chief financial officer, wrote in March. “Because the survey is anonymous, the agency is not able to identify those two individuals.”

Among the other documents provided to the committee were the EPA's official travel manual, procedures for how the agency compensates employees who are relocated for work, documents on how the agency approves domestic and international travel, guidance on how to approach emergency travel and its policy on rides.

“The EPA recognizes the importance of the committee's need to obtain information necessary to perform its legitimate oversight functions, and is committed to continuing to work with your staff on how best to accommodate the committee's interests in the documents requested,” Nichole Distefano, EPA associate administrator for congressional relations, wrote in April.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The March letter to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee on air travel is available at http://src.bna.com/hoN.

The April letter detailing records related to McCabe's travel is available at http://src.bna.com/hoQ.

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