September 5, 2018 10:55:58 AM
WASHINGTON -- The Environmental Protection Agency failed to document any threats or security risks that warranted spending more than $3.5 million on unprecedented around-the-clock bodyguards for then-chief Scott Pruitt, the agency's internal watchdog concluded on Tuesday.
The EPA allowed Pruitt and his administrative team to increase the security detail to 19 agents, up from six for Pruitt's predecessor. That "undocumented decision represents an inefficient use of agency resources," the inspector general concluded.
EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said in an email that officials had to look at more than specific and serious threats, or the lack of them, in deciding how much security an official needs.
Abboud cited gun attacks without warning on GOP lawmakers at a baseball practice last year and on a Democratic congresswoman in Arizona in 2011.
"Lack of a threat does not mean that there is no risk or that protective services are not appropriate," the EPA spokesman wrote.
Pruitt left the EPA in July after less than 1 1/2 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 unprecedented full-time security detail that 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 President Donald Trump's 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.
Ken Cook, president of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt, who had been an avid enforcer of Trump's mission to roll back environmental regulation deemed 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."
EPA officials never gave the agency's independently funded inspector's general office "any documented evidence or justification" supporting the decision to give Pruitt night-and-day security, the report said.
The inspector general's report said 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, he 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 swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.
The EPA's watchdog office also said Tuesday it was opening another in a series of its probes of agency actions during Pruitt's tenure. The new review will look at how the agency last year carried out in-house testing on glider trucks, which are new truck bodies equipped with older, dirtier engines.
The Trump administration backs easing air pollution rules to allow the glider trucks on the roads.