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EPA failed to properly justify Pruitt security costs, watchdog says
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn't fully justify why it needed to significantly ramp up security efforts for embattled former Administrator Scott Pruitt that led to millions of dollars in extra costs, the agency's internal watchdog office said.
In a wide-ranging report released Tuesday, the EPA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the costs for Pruitt's detail grew to $3.5 million in his first 11 months, more than double his predecessor's costs, and the EPA never documented why it was necessary.
"Failure to properly justify the level of protective services provided to the Administrator has allowed costs to increase from $1.6 million to $3.5 million in just 11 months," the OIG, led by Inspector General Arthur Elkins, wrote in the report.
The report concluded it was an "undocumented decision" and "an inefficient use of agency resources."
Auditors also questioned whether the agency has the authority to provide a round-the-clock security detail for the administrator, noting that the EPA didn't provide a legal finding that it has the law enforcement authority to do so until June, after more than a year of prodding by the OIG, and after auditors already completed a draft report.
Pruitt resigned from the EPA in July, after a rocky 16-month tenure laced with five months of controversy over his compliance with ethics rules and over spending of taxpayer money. His ballooning security costs, including his decision to have unprecedented 24/7 security protection, were central to the scandals.
In its own statement, the EPA defended its decisions regarding Pruitt's security.
"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 [Gabrielle] Giffords [D-Ariz.] - that a threat analysis cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection," EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said in a statement.
"Accordingly, there is no support for the OIG's insinuation that expenditures for protective services carried out before a threat analysis was conducted were not justified."
While the EPA routinely asserted throughout Pruitt's tenure that the security detail was justified due to a number of threats made against the administrator, the OIG found that the EPA never conducted a true threat analysis to determine the need for increased security.
Instead, the agency relied on statistical details related to the number of threats received against Pruitt and his family.
"The report did not assess the potential danger presented by any of these threats. This information is considerably narrower in scope and only an element of what would be contained as part of a threat analysis as defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or GAO," the watchdog's report found.
The Trump administration requested a round-the-clock security detail for Pruitt before he was even confirmed by the Senate, and the detail started on his first day.
Auditors said that premeditated decision, done without a threat analysis, represents an "inefficient use of agency resources."
The EPA agreed to mitigate four of the 12 recommendations made by the OIG regarding the agency's failures with Pruitt's security.
The round-the-clock detail was just one ramped-up security decision made under Pruitt. The former administrator also used security to justify frequent first-class flights, keeping his calendar secret, having his office swept for surveillance bugs and buying tactical pants and other gear, among other measures.
The Tuesday report is the first in what is expected to be a series of OIG reports that look into many of the controversies that embattled Pruitt, which additionally include his decision to rent a $50 a night condo from the wife of a prominent energy lobbyist, and his prolific use of first class business travel during his first year heading the agency.
Andrew Wheeler, the EPA's current acting administrator, requested the 24/7 security detail be eliminated just a week after taking office, the report said. Instead, he uses the "portal-to-portal" method, only utilizing a security detail when he travels and when he commutes from home to work, which was the standard practice before Pruitt.
A representative for Pruitt did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Pruitt's opponents said the report confirms their criticisms that he wasted taxpayer money.
"This IG report leaves no doubt that Scott Pruitt wasted huge amounts of taxpayer money on his own protection without justification," said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.). "The Pruitt saga illustrates how sorely real oversight is needed as a check on the president, and how the GOP-led Congress has acted as a rubber stamp for the Trump administration's worst excesses."
Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project, said it shows that Pruitt's decisions weren't rational.
"Nothing more than paranoia and mismanagement explains why taxpayers shelled out more than $3.5 million last year - more than twice the amount spent in previous administrations - on Mr. Pruitt's personal bodyguard."
- Updated 1:33 p.m.