Watchdog: EPA hasn’t justified Pruitt’s security spending

A lack of guidelines and follow-through enabled Scott Pruitt to keep around-the-clock security that cost the Environmental Protection Agency $3.5 million in 2017, the EPA inspector general concluded in a report released Tuesday.

The report raised numerous issues with the way the agency protects its administrator, an issue thrust into the public view because of the unprecedented level of security for Pruitt.

The agency had no “standard operating procedures that address the level of protection required for the Administrator or how those services are to be provided,” according to the report. That meant agency officials fulfilled Pruitt’s request for the 24/7 coverage starting on his first day of work, and never conducted a review to determine if that level of security was necessary. The team eventually ballooned from six to around 20 agents, all with vehicles — bringing the cost to more than double that of protecting Pruitt’s predecessor.

The inspector general found “no threat analysis or documented decision to continue 24/7 protection,” although the EPA later cited an August 2017 list of threats, as justification for the protection.

The EPA disputed the importance of conducting a formal threat assessment when deciding how to protect the administrator.

“Specifically, because persons intending harm often do not make threats, EPA believes — based on DOJ’s report, ‘Protective Intelligence & Threat Assessment Investigations,’ Secret Service practices and real-life scenarios such as the recent attack on the Republican Congressional baseball team and the shooting of Representative Giffords — that a threat analysis cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection,” said spokesman Michael Abboud.

Protective service detail agents are also operating under dubious legal authority, the report noted, since a 2017 decision to no longer have agents deputized as U.S. Marshals.

It also found more than $106,000 in overtime pay for agents was not properly authorized, although the report did not cast doubt on whether the agents worked the hours.

While in office, Pruitt and his spokesmen defended the detail as necessary given an increased number of threats against him. Records showed the former Secret Service agent Pruitt picked to lead the team cited a passenger who yelled at Pruitt in an airport as justification for what they called another security precaution: flying Pruitt in first class or other upgraded airplane seats, rather than standard coach.

“Administrator Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him,” his then-spokesman, Jahan Wilcox, said at the time. “Americans should all agree that members of the President’s Cabinet should be kept safe from violent threats.”

But two Democratic senators who reviewed an internal memo cast doubt on the seriousness of the threats. They included a postcard about climate change that read “we are watching you,” a social media post where an individual “wanted to express his displeasure” with Pruitt’s policies and protesters who attempted to disrupt a speech.

The $3.5 million price tag, first released by the agency in May, is primarily for salary and travel costs, and did not include costs such as ongoing training and equipment.

Pruitt resigned in July under a cloud of ethical and spending scandals and more than a dozen probes, including the security detail review.