Watchdog faults EPA for Pruitt’s 24/7 security costs

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency failed to properly justify spending more than $3.5 million on around-the-clock security for former head Scott Pruitt, including nearly $1 million in travel costs for his bodyguards, the agency’s internal watchdog concluded on Tuesday.

The EPA allowed Pruitt and his team to increase the security detail to 19 agents, up from six for Pruitt’s predecessor, without proving the need, “an undocumented decision (that) represents an inefficient use of agency resources,” the inspector general concluded.

Pruitt left the EPA in July after less than 1¢ years and amid unending revelations of scandals over his spending and other allegations of abuses of office. The new acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, ended the full-time security detail that same month.

The inspector general’s report said Pruitt’s security costs were more than double those of his predecessor, Gina McCarthy, during her last year. It also cited $106,507 in overtime — some of it in 2016, before the Trump administration — for security that lacked proper authorization.

Travel costs for Pruitt’s bodyguards more than tripled, to $739,580, from February 2017 to December 2017, owing to Pruitt’s insistence on 24-hour-a-day security and on premium-class travel for himself and a bodyguard, the report said.

Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware and a vocal critic as ethics allegations mounted against Pruitt, called the agency’s security spending “simply unacceptable.”

“This report confirms what we suspected — Mr. Pruitt’s excessive, 24/7 security detail and the costs it incurred while Pruitt traveled the world first-class on the taxpayers’ dime was not properly justified and was not based on a security threat analysis on risks to Pruitt,” Carper said Tuesday.

Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt — an avid enforcer of President Donald Trump’s mission to roll back regulation that the Trump administration deems unfriendly to business — “not only held the EPA’s mission in contempt, but saw his post as a chance to pamper himself on the American taxpayer’s dime.”

The EPA did not immediately comment on the inspector general’s findings.

The inspector general’s report says the agency contended “the level of protection is an administration decision, informed by the awareness of risks and the potential impact of those risks to the efficient functioning of the agency.”

In testimony before a Senate committee in May, Pruitt sought to shift responsibility for the decision to expand his security detail to subordinates, testifying that EPA security officials made the decision to go to around-the-clock protection before his arrival at the agency in response to an assessment of threats.

He then read aloud from an internal report, compiled months after the decision was made, of negative statements made against him through social media posts. None of the perceived threats he cited resulted in any arrests.

“Those decisions are made by current law enforcement officials at the agency,” Pruitt said. Asked whether he had directed that his security to be increased, Pruitt demurred: “I was aware of communications taking place. I was not at the agency at the time. I was actually — that was before confirmation.”

The Associated Press first reported in April that Pruitt’s preoccupation with his safety cost taxpayers more than $3 million in his first year as his security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

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