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Watchdog: EPA’s Pruitt demanded 24/7 armed security on Day 1

In this April 26, 2018 photo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt listen to questions as he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
By Michael Biesecker Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt demanded and received unprecedented around-the-clock armed security protection on his very first day, according to new details disclosed Monday by the agency’s internal watchdog.

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said in letters to Democratic senators that Pruitt himself initiated the 24-hour-a day protection. Pruitt’s staff has previously said the enhanced protection, which far exceeds that afforded to past EPA administrators, was triggered by death threats.

Elkins’ letter comes after Pruitt cited an August 2017 report by a staffer in the inspector general’s office detailing more than a dozen investigations of threats against him and his Obama administration predecessor as justification for stepped-up security measures, which has included flying first class on commercial airliners.

Elkins said that 2017 summary was requested by Pruitt’s office and was not intended to justify tighter security. Marked “For Official Use Only,” the internal summary was then improperly made public, Elkins said.

“The (Office of Inspector General) is not a decision maker for EPA,” Elkins wrote, adding that Pruitt’s staff began pushing for his office to assess threats against Pruitt within days of his arrival in Washington. “The OIG declined and informed EPA management that it is not the role of the OIG to provide a threat assessment, but rather the OIG is limited to the role of investigating and reporting back the facts.”

The Associated Press reported last month that Pruitt’s preoccupation with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers, as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes. Altogether, the agency has spent about $3 million on Pruitt’s 20-member full-time security detail, which is more than three times the size of his predecessor’s part-time security contingent.

Elkins’ letter came two days before Pruitt is set to appear before a Senate committee where he is likely to face another round of questions about his security precautions and spending. EPA’s inspector general and congressional committees are conducting about a dozen investigations into actions by Pruitt and his closest aides.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox did not immediately respond for comment about the inspector general’s letter.

Pruitt said during congressional testimony last month that his extraordinary security spending was needed because the threats against him have been “unprecedented in terms of quantity and type.”

Elkins’ letter was issued in response to questions from Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The Democrats said Monday that the new disclosures undercut Pruitt’s claims about the reasons for his pricey security enhancements.

“A threat to a federal employee’s personal security is extremely serious, but so is using security as pretext for special treatment on the public dime,” the senators said in a joint statement. “This letter raises troubling questions about whether Administrator Pruitt told the truth during his testimony before the House. Now more than ever, Mr. Pruitt should come clean about his spending of taxpayer dollars on all manner of extravagances, and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle should demand he do so.”