Wed, May 16, 2018 - Page 7 News List

EPA head sought security from first day: watchdog

AP, WASHINGTON

An internal watchdog at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt demanded and received unprecedented, around-the-clock protection from armed officers on his first day — a detail that appears at odds with past claims that the stepped-up security measures came in direct response to death threats.

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said in letters to US Democratic senators that Pruitt himself initiated the 24-hour protection, which far exceeds the part-time security afforded to past EPA administrators.

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

That summary was requested by Pruitt’s office and was not intended to justify tighter security, Elkins said, adding that as it was marked “for official use only,” the internal summary was then improperly made public.

“The OIG [Office of Inspector General] is not a decisionmaker 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.”

Altogether, the agency has spent about US$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.

Pruitt has faced a steady trickle of revelations involving pricey trips in first-class seats and unusual security spending, including a US$43,000 soundproof booth for making private telephone calls.

Pruitt is also under fire for substantial raises afforded to two young staffers he brought with him from Oklahoma, where he had served as state attorney general.

In testimony before two US House of Representatives subcommittees last month, Pruitt sought to put the blame for any missteps on his aides, saying that his security team decided he should fly in first class and that his chief of staff approved the questionable raises.

Pruitt is today to testify before a US Senate committee where he is likely to face another round of sharp questions about his administration of the federal environmental agency.

The inspector general and congressional committees are now conducting about a dozen investigations into actions by Pruitt and his closest aides.

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