EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in September. Despite lame-duck status, he...

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in September. Despite lame-duck status, he has scheduled overseas trips in the coming weeks at taxpayer expense. Credit: AP/John Flesher

President Donald Trump's environment chief has scheduled trips to Taiwan and Latin America before regime change happens at the White House on Jan. 20. Traveling with others, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler would thus be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money.

The question is why. Charter flights will be necessary for COVID-19 protection. Fact-gathering and policy discussion will be moot — like making expansion plans for a company that's going out of business. That's because once Wheeler is gone, many of his decisions no doubt will be reversed in the incoming Joe Biden administration.

EPA already has proposed a global strategy for addressing marine litter, a key topic on the itinerary, The New York Times reported. Any necessary business can be conducted remotely during the pandemic.

Transitions set all kinds of goods and people in motion. Where they go and what is left behind can be interesting.

In 2002, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office of Congress said "damage, theft, vandalism and pranks" occurred in the White House complex during the transition from the Bill Clinton to George W. Bush administrations. The price tag was set at $13,000 to $14,000, including $4,850 to replace computer keyboards with damaged or missing "W" keys. Clearly some of it was intentional.

"We were unable to conclude," the GAO said, "whether the 2001 transition was worse than previous ones" when similar issues were reported.

There also was a furniture saga. That ended up with the Clintons sending $28,000 worth of household goods back to Washington amid questions over whether the items were personal gifts or donations to the White House.

From what we know of Trump's sense of entitlement, similar issues could arise, even after his petulant clogging of the transition stops. Some concerns carry more heft than others. Federal records present a key question.

The president is unique for his sketchy "don't-put-it-in-writing" approach. No true record reportedly exists for five meetings he had with Vladimir Putin during the first two years of his term, as recalled in The New Yorker. He gets staffers to sign nondisclosure agreements. They use apps that erase text messages. He tears up documents after meetings and has tried to erase some of his Twitter postings.

Will federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention communications about the administration's inaction in containing the coronavirus pandemic be available — as they should — to Congress, future administrations and academics?

Were all the intelligence briefings that Trump didn't read or believe safely stored? Will he respect or follow any of the rules and laws involving presidential records and the National Archives? Disputes over the material props of his office would mark a fitting end to the Trump tenure.


Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months