EPA chief Pruitt had office swept for surveillance bugs

EPA chief Pruitt had office swept for surveillance bugs
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The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had his office professionally examined earlier this year to look for covert surveillance devices.

The EPA paid $3,000 in March to Edwin Steinmetz Associates to do a “sweep for covert/illegal surveillance devices” in Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittWith offshore drilling scheme, Trump's America looks like a banana republic Overnight Energy: California regulators vote to close nuclear plant | Watchdog expands Pruitt travel probe | Washington state seeks exemption from offshore drilling plan Overnight Regulation: Fight erupts over gun export rules | WH meets advocates on prison reform | Officials move to allow Medicaid work requirements | New IRS guidance on taxes MORE’s office at the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters, documents provided to The Hill show. 

The EPA source who provided the documents on the condition of anonymity said the sweep, which came weeks after Pruitt’s arrival at the agency, did not uncover any bugs. 

Pruitt, Oklahoma's former attorney general, has taken a number of steps to guard his security and privacy in his time as EPA head. 

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He is the first EPA administrator to have a 24-hour security detail, encompassing a staff of dozens of agents at a six-figure annual cost, often pulling agents away from environmental enforcement matters. He paid nearly $25,000 for a secure phone booth in his office, despite an existing secure compartmentalized information facility elsewhere in the building.

Pruitt’s staff has declined to release his schedule in advance over security concerns, and The New York Times reported that he asks some employees to leave their phones behind when meeting with him.

Like other security measures, the EPA defended the surveillance sweep as a response to unprecedented threats against Pruitt, whose aggressive deregulatory agenda has angered environmentalists and many others. 

“Administrator Pruitt has received an unprecedented amount of threats against him and security decisions are made by EPA’s Protective Service Detail,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said.

Lisa Jackson, who was EPA administrator from 2009 to 2013 under former President Obama, also had a similar security sweep undertaken in the office, Wilcox said.

A person who worked at the EPA during Jackson’s tenure said she never requested a surveillance sweep, but it may have been part of a standard protocol when she became the new administrator. Jackson now oversees environmental initiatives at Apple. 

The Washington Post reported in September that the EPA had seen more threats against Pruitt than any previous administrator. 

Doug Parker, who worked at the EPA for 25 years, mostly as a special agent in the criminal investigation division, said a bug sweep of the administrator’s office is unusual.

“It doesn’t strike me as completely out of left field, but it’s certainly not routine, even in the administrator’s office,” said Parker, who retired in 2016 and now leads Earth & Water Strategies, a D.C. consulting firm.

“There could be valid concerns,” Parker said, pointing to national security-related conversations and foreign delegations that sometimes come to the EPA building.

“But it is certainly not something that was a routine occurrence in past administrator’s offices,” he said.

—Updated at 8:01 p.m.