From the NY TIMES
When Scott Pruitt wanted to refashion the Environmental Protection Agency’s “challenge coin” — a type of souvenir medallion with military origins that has become a status symbol among civilians — he proposed an unusual design: Make it bigger, and delete the E.P.A. logo.
Mr. Pruitt instead wanted the coin to feature some combination of symbols more reflective of himself and the Trump administration. Among the possibilities: a buffalo, to evoke Mr. Pruitt’s native Oklahoma, and a Bible verse to reflect his faith.
Other ideas included using the Great Seal of the United States — a design similar to the presidential seal — and putting Mr. Pruitt’s name around the rim in large letters, according to Ronald Slotkin, a career E.P.A. employee who retired this year, and two people familiar with the proposals who asked to remain anonymous because they said they feared retribution.
Many agencies have challenge coins to hand out as gifts to employees or guests. The name comes from a military tradition of carrying a coin stamped with an insignia to prove one’s affiliation, if challenged.
Mr. Pruitt’s numismatic preferences, laid out last year during his first few months at the agency, raised concerns among senior agency officials, according to Mr. Slotkin and the others. Over the course of several months of discussions, they said, staff members expressed worries that his proposals would cost too much, and that dropping the agency’s seal — a stylized flower — would be a breach of protocol. They urged Mr. Pruitt to consider more modest designs and to drop his objection to the seal.
Mr. Slotkin said the proposals appeared to refashion the coin into a keepsake embodying Mr. Pruitt, as opposed to the E.P.A.
“These coins represent the agency,” said Mr. Slotkin, who served as the director of the E.P.A.’s multimedia office. “But Pruitt wanted his coin to be bigger than everyone else’s and he wanted it in a way that represented him.”
Mr. Slotkin said that during the design discussion, in which he participated, Mr. Pruitt wanted to remove “anything to do with E.P.A.” The changes, he said, would have turned it into a “Pruitt coin.”
A spokesman for the E.P.A., Jahan Wilcox, said the agency never ordered challenge coins.
Another person who was involved in the debate said that Mr. Pruitt had expressed disapproval of the agency’s seal, a round flower with four leaves. He felt it looked like a marijuana leaf.
Mr. Pruitt also requested that the agency order other items — including leather-bound notebooks, fountain pens and stationery — from which he wanted to omit the E.P.A. seal and upon which he wanted to feature his name prominently, according to Mr. Slotkin and the person who participated in the discussions about the seal. Ultimately, the items retained a small version of the seal, according to several people familiar with the orders.
The debate over souvenirs came as Mr. Pruitt was engaged in personal and public spending that has since become the subject of scrutiny, threatening his tenure at the E.P.A.
Mr. Pruitt has been under fire for renting a condominium for $50 a night from the wife of a lobbyist with business before his agency, as well as for his spending of taxpayer dollars on first-class travel, which he has asserted was necessary for security reasons.
In an interview with The Washington Examiner this month, Mr. Pruitt said he was under attack because he has been effective in enacting President Trump’s regulatory overhaul agenda and opponents would like to stop him. “And do I think that they will resort to anything to achieve that?” he said. “Yes.”
Mr. Trump defended Mr. Pruitt in a weekend Twitter message: “While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at E.P.A. Record clean Air & Water while saving U.S.A. Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses O.K. Scott is doing a great job!”
Some critics of Mr. Pruitt’s coin proposal said it missed the point of the gift item. Scott H. Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group, said that the coins were intended to honor jobs well done and lift morale. “The coin should reference the E.P.A., and not become tribute to Pruitt or Oklahoma,” he said.
While the origins of the silver-dollar-sized coins are military — they have typically been given by commanders to recognize outstanding service — today they can be found everywhere. Eric Perez, who manages Lapel Pins Plus Network in Florida, a challenge-coin maker, said these days he creates coins “for everyone, from government agencies down to mom-and-pop stores and everything in between.”
Currently, he said, the company is designing a separate E.P.A. challenge coin to be given to emergency workers who responded to last year’s hurricanes and wildfires. The coin, Mr. Perez said, is similar to one the company designed for a division of the E.P.A. a few years ago that depicted emergency responders on one side and the agency symbol and division name on the other.
The main design of the current E.P.A. challenge coin was conceived under President Barack Obama’s first administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. One side bears the agency seal with her signature underneath and her name stamped along the rim. The other side has an image of outstretched hands holding up the earth.
The cost of the coins ranges roughly from $3 to $6 apiece (not including the molds) depending on size, thickness, design and number of coins produced, according to Mary Harms, the owner of Challenge Design, a company that makes challenge coins for the White House Military Office.
Mr. Slotkin, along with one of the people familiar with the initial discussions and who requested anonymity, said Mr. Pruitt wanted his coin to be about twice as large as the current one while featuring images of more personal relevance, such as the buffalo. Mr. Slotkin said that, when he asked Mr. Pruitt’s aides, why put a buffalo on the coin, they answered, “But he’s from Oklahoma.”
“At one point he wanted a Bible verse, but staff talked him out of it,” Mr. Slotkin said. He said he did not recall which verse had been considered.
Asked about the details of the E.P.A.’s coin redesign, Mr. Wilcox, the E.P.A. spokesman, said in a statement: “Administrator Pruitt does not have a challenge coin.”
Other agencies have made changes to their own challenge coins. Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, issued coins last year that display the United States seal on one side and his agency’s logo, a buffalo on a prairie with mountains and a rising sun, on the other. Mr. Zinke’s name is stamped around the rim. Earlier Interior Department challenge coins did not bear the secretary’s name.
Mr. Trump also has remade the presidential challenge coins, substituting his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” for the national motto, e pluribus unum.