The head of the Environmental Protection Agency is reportedly taking drastic steps to make sure no more negative stories are published about his alleged unethical behavior and wasteful spending at the agency. These include tightly monitoring public records requests from journalists and shutting out the majority of EPA employees—even previously trusted political staffers that Pruitt himself had appointed.
Beset by scandal, Pruitt “has grown paranoid and isolated, and he only trusts a small handful of people at the agency,” Axios’ Jonathan Swan reported over the weekend, noting that Pruitt has “walled himself off from all but five EPA political appointees.” This inner circle doesn’t even include his own chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, who “runs the agency’s operations but rarely knows where his boss is.” In fact, most senior EPA officials are no longer told where the administrator is going when he travels. “It’s absolutely unreal working here,” one political appointee told Swan. “Everyone’s miserable. Nobody talks. It’s a dry wall prison.”
Pruitt is trying to stop leaks. But he’s also gone to great lengths to prevent journalists from obtaining public information. Under his leadership, the agency has been extremely slow to fill Freedom of Information Act requests from reporters and environmental groups, which the agency has historically attributed to an unusually large number of requests. But according to a new Politico report, the requests are slow because Pruitt ordered the EPA’s FOIA office to notify political staffers about every request involving him, so that they can review them. Nate Jones, director of the FOIA Project at George Washington University, said the process looks “like the most burdensome review process that I’ve seen documented.”
Unprecedented secrecy has been the norm for Pruitt since he took office. Even before journalists revealed his habit for excessive spending and industry favors, Pruitt’s staffers refused to reveal the bulk of his daily schedule, and Pruitt largely limited his media appearances to friendly sources. But hunkering down won’t shield him from the 11 investigations he’s currently facing.