WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General on Tuesday faulted the agency for spending millions on a round-the-clock protective detail for former administrator Scott Pruitt “without documented justification,” according to a new report.
The agency’s protective service detail cost taxpayers $3.5 million over just 11 months from February to December 2017 — more than double the cost of the same period a year earlier, the inspector general found.
Pruitt began receiving 24/7 protection from the moment he took office in February 2017, at the request of a Trump political appointee who said the polarizing former Oklahoma attorney general faced a higher security risk than his predecessors. Guarding Pruitt soon demanded triple the manpower of previous protective details, requiring special agents to pause criminal investigations and rotate in from around the country.
In its report Tuesday, EPA inspector general Arthur Elkins said the agency had no formal threat assessment process in place to determine what level of protection was actually warranted.
The administrator’s protective service detail “did not conduct a threat analysis (threat assessment, level of any other risks and comfort of the protection) to determine the increased level of protection necessary or desired for Administrator Pruitt,” the inspector general found. Instead, the office relied on an August 2017 report that listed threats against him and his family but “did not assess the potential danger presented by any of these threats.”
“The increased costs associated with this undocumented decision represents an inefficient use of agency resources,” the report concluded.
In a statement Tuesday and in written responses to the inspector general, the EPA disputed the notion that it lacked justification for protecting its controversial administrator.
“A threat analysis cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection,” EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said. “Accordingly, there is no support for the [inspector general’s] insinuation that expenditures for protective services carried out before a threat analysis was conducted were not justified.”
In a lengthy written response, the EPA insisted that a threat assessment alone, while “a useful tool,” does not “mean that there is no risk or that protective services are not justified.”
“Some protectees are at risk simply based on the positions they hold,” EPA officials wrote. “We are, unfortunately, living in an era when political discourse is no longer polite and persons feel that political disagreements justify making statements on social media that incite violence.”
The agency added that since “most attacks are not preceded by a threat, physical protection remains a necessity.” It cited the 2017 attack at a Republican congressional baseball practice and the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., as examples.
Pruitt, who resigned in July amid a slew of ethics inquiries, faced repeated questions while in office about the size and expense of his security detail. During his first year in office, the EPA spent more than $2.7 million on agents’ salaries and roughly $760,00 on travel costs as part of that coverage, records released under the Freedom of Information Act show.
That far eclipses what taxpayers paid on average to provide security for Pruitt’s immediate predecessors, Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, during their tenures. McCarthy and Jackson, each of whom led the EPA under Barack Obama and were controversial figures in their own right, generally had security teams composed of about a half-dozen individuals.
By contrast, Pruitt’s security detail swelled to about 19 agents to cover the round-the-clock needs and his near-constant travel schedule, both for work-related trips and for personal visits home to Oklahoma and other places, including California and Kentucky, according to the inspector general. While Pruitt sat in first-class on planes, which his security chief also argued was necessary due to potential threats, a member of his detail typically sat beside him.
Some Cabinet members automatically receive heightened security as part of their jobs, including the secretaries of Defense, State and Homeland Security. FBI agents accompany the attorney general around the clock. But for other Cabinet posts, the level of protection varies, based on circumstances.
For months, EPA officials cited the verbal and written threats Pruitt received since joining the administration as justification for his enhanced security. The alleged threats came in the form of social media posts, phone messages and other forms of contact. A “potentially threatening postcard” arrived from a person who “expressed regret and apologized” when confronted by investigators. Authorities concluded that an angry letter from a prison inmate “did not reveal any overt threatening language.”
Pruitt said he delegated decisions about his level of protection, as well as related decisions such as traveling first class for safety, to the head of his security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta.
Perrotta, who came under congressional scrutiny for his role in several key EPA spending decisions, retired earlier this year.
While the agency’s inspector general typically does not discuss the actual number of threats against EPA employees, a deputy inspector general did acknowledge last year that investigators had opened more cases regarding Pruitt than for past administrators.
But how Pruitt used his personal security detail also came under scrutiny after the Post reported earlier this year that he had asked agents guarding him to run errands for him on occasion, including picking up his dry cleaning and taking him in search of a favorite moisturizing lotion.
Separately, Tuesday’s report also found that agents in the EPA’s protective service detail “worked overtime without proper authorization,” ringing up “improper payments of $106,507 between January 2016 and March 2017.”
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