WASHINGTON — Andrew Wheeler, the administrator of the Environmental Safety Company, plans to squeeze in two taxpayer-funded journeys overseas — to Taiwan subsequent month and to 4 Latin American international locations in January — earlier than President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes over and strikes to overturn most of his insurance policies.
Each journeys have raised issues in regards to the taxpayer expense at a time when Mr. Wheeler now not represents the course of E.P.A. coverage, and he and prime aides are alleged to be aiding the transition to the Biden administration.
Touring to Taiwan is predicted to require a chartered flight at a price of greater than $250,000 to keep away from coronavirus dangers and due to the prolonged quarantines required of economic vacationers, based on three individuals educated in regards to the journey. The three-day go to, scheduled for the week of Dec. 5, will value an estimated $45,000 for a delegation of 10 individuals, based on E.P.A. and American Institute of Taiwan paperwork in addition to individuals acquainted with the planning, who spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to debate the preparations.
James Hewitt, a spokesman for Mr. Wheeler, stated the company remains to be working by logistics however stated the administrator was invited to Taiwan “to collaborate on points together with the Save our Seas initiative and marine litter, air high quality, and kids’s well being.” Mr. Wheeler has known as plastic waste a “prime precedence” and the E.P.A. not too long ago launched a worldwide technique for addressing marine litter.
Mr. Hewitt didn’t acknowledge the incoming Biden administration or the transition, and added, “Administrator Wheeler stays head of the company and can proceed to advance environmental progress each right here and overseas.”
E.P.A. officers famous that Gina McCarthy, who led the E.P.A. beneath the Obama administration, additionally traveled to Taiwan and the overall value amounted to greater than $68,000. That journey occurred in 2014, two years earlier than Mr. Trump was elected, and didn’t contain a constitution flight.
Along with Mr. Wheeler, the delegation to Taiwan is predicted to incorporate Mandy Gunasekara, his chief of workers, and Michael Molina, his deputy chief of workers.
Two individuals educated in regards to the journey stated conferences with prime officers in Taiwan weren’t deliberate far prematurely as is typical of such journeys, and as a substitute had been hurriedly cobbled collectively. The identical individuals stated there have been no acknowledged coverage targets or occasions for the Latin America journey, solely a choice for international locations to go to.
Aides stated they’ve been instructed to plan visits for Mr. Wheeler to journey to Panama, Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic — however to make plans for different international locations within the area if these 4 will not be potential.
There are not any worldwide environmental conferences or occasions slated in these international locations in January.
Mr. Hewitt stated in an announcement in regards to the Latin America journey “nothing has but been scheduled.”
Mr. Wheeler is just not the one high-ranking Trump administration official making ready for lame-duck journey. Chad F. Wolf, the secretary of Homeland Safety, has scheduled a visit to Latin America in December, a Homeland Safety official acquainted with the matter confirmed. The date and international locations are nonetheless being labored out however may embody El Salvador, Panama, Brazil and Ecuador. That journey was first reported by The Washington Submit.
Noah Bookbinder, govt director of Residents for Duty and Ethics in Washington, a liberal-leaning watchdog group, stated Mr. Wheeler’s journeys are authorized so long as there may be an official objective. However, he stated, “as an moral matter it appears deeply problematic” notably as coronavirus infections surge to report ranges in the US and stay excessive in South America.
“The pandemic provides bills and issue to virtually all the pieces however definitely to any type of official journey. When that journey is critical for the federal government’s enterprise, individuals perceive that no matter sources it takes are wanted and doubtless wouldn’t begrudge additional expense,” Mr. Bookbinder stated.
However, he added, “It’s laborious to think about a scenario in a nonemergency situation the place a cupboard official’s time goes to be higher spent touring internationally than right here in Washington making ready for an orderly transition.”
Taiwan has been extensively praised for having shortly contained the coronavirus pandemic, however in current weeks has been involved a few rise in circumstances from vacationers getting into the nation. Foreigners touring to Taiwan are examined for the coronavirus earlier than being allowed to enter, and the individuals acquainted with Mr. Wheeler’s journey stated the chartered flight is critical to keep away from a prolonged and costly quarantine.
Alex Azar, the secretary of the U.S. Division of Well being and Human Companies, visited Taiwan this summer season, additionally flying on a constitution flight.
Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.