US Politics

Ethical Spending Regulations Must Apply From ‘Secretary to Secretary’

Scott Pruitt’s tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency has brought to light many ethical abuses and overreach of power as well as expenditure. Tanner Kenney reasons that a more robust and ethical regulatory framework on spending that applies to all government employees across the board is needed to curb such behavior.


Former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has made headlines throughout his tenure as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for mostly negative reasons relating to his ethical standards. Pruitt has been rightfully questioned for his spending on a security detail, first-class travel, housing, and unnecessary office accoutrements as well as scorned for his lapse in ethical judgement in his reasoning for repealing a great number of regulations aimed at protecting the most vulnerable populations. Even Pruitt’s claims of receiving a multitude of death threats as a reason for undertaking these extreme security measures have been investigated and found to be false.

Beyond the negative impacts Administrator Pruitt has wrought on the agency, the United States and the world’s environment are likely to suffer as much – if not more – under his leadership. Therefore, it is vital for our nation’s health and well-being to extend ethical spending-regulations for government employees across the board. From entry-level positions to their bosses to the leaders of given organizations to cabinet members, it will be essential for a functioning government to prevent the type of fraud perpetrated by EPA Sec. Scott Pruitt from occurring again via the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Administrator Pruitt serves as the prime example of why further regulation is needed as his attempts to sour public opinion of government employees at all levels and from all walks of life has been met with acceptance among his supporters and poses a great threat to those who wish to question his decision-making capabilities in examining his conclusions through the lens of basic science. If the equivalent of a middle-management government employee is expected to purchase his or her own business cards, as dictated by the GAO, then logic would follow that their ultimate boss should not be allowed to spend taxpayer dollars on customized fountain pens.

As such, the GAO must be directed to investigate the manner in which ethics violations are allowed to occur – i.e. the vacuum within which each Secretary, Administrator, or other leader(s) are given discretionary budgets that are only reviewed by ethics panels and/or investigators upon receipt following the completion of a purchase. This spending-vacuum, essentially a loophole, must be closed via regulatory action. However, in order to do so, that direction must come from the Republican-held Congress, regardless of the agency’s independent history and nature.

The GAO must take action and quantify the threshold for which all government employees are able to spend discretionary funds (via taxpayer dollars) in an equitable fashion prior to review. This means that the GAO should scale the ability of a given employee to spend discretionary funds – which may and should be zero, in a great number of cases – by pinning his or her spending capacity to a number of factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Length of one’s tenure in public service
  • Duration of one’s tenure at a given agency
  • Number of employees one oversees
  • Ratio of one’s salary to the division
  • Ratio of one’s salary to the agency
  • Percentage of discretionary funds spent to annual budget

Guided by President Donald Trump, Pruitt and the EPA are poised to do great damage to the world’s climates and environments as the administration repeals public health- and climate-related protections via deregulation. This will continue at a fervent pace alongside the promotion of coal via economic assistance and delaying power plant retirements as well as the denigration of renewable sources of energy. In order for these regulations to be effective, however, they must be enforced; as history has shown that these types of ethical lapses and possible illegal behavior have gone unpunished.

Moving forward, bipartisan agreement on the regulation of spending, hiring, firing, and beyond must be prioritized in order to prevent the type of hyper-partisan bickering that stalls progress in the legislative branch of government, confounding legal observers of the judicial branch, and enraging advocates of transparency in the executive branch.

Tanner Kenney is an energy and media professional with a background in journalism and received his M.S. in Global Affairs, Environment & Energy Policy from NYU’s Center for Global Affairs. Recently, Tanner has focused on the advocacy of sustainable development through renewable energy technologies, transportation efficiency, and inclusive public policy.

Photo Credit: Jason Andrew/Getty Images

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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