EPA OIG Faults Agency’s Failures for Pruitt’s $3.5 Million Security Detail Price Tag

The EPA’s Office of Inspector General released their report Tuesday on their investigation to assess whether or not President Trump’s former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt and or his office properly identified and followed procedure to justify the agency’s “over 110 percent” increase in expenditures for Pruitt’s 19-agent, round the clock, 24/7 security detail.

Pruitt resigned July 5th amid public pressure, a cloud of scandal and multiple investigations.

(For TNB’s report on Pruitt’s resignation see Tiff’s reporting here and on the GAO finding the EPA violated federal spending laws here. For all TNB news and reports about Scott Pruitt start here.)

The EPA Office of Inspector General conducted their investigation after receiving a “hotline complaint” about allegations of “timekeeping irregularities and potential salary cap violations” of members of the EPA Protective Service Detail (PSD), with allegations that PSD agents “were not working their complete 8-hour shifts.”

The OIG also conducted an audit to determine if there were adequate control mechanisms in place, a review of the agency’s law enforcement authority, and addresses if the agency is “operating efficiently and effectively.”

Bloomberg reported Wednesday the OIG’s report’s concluded “the Environmental Protection Agency failed to justify expanding its security team to guard former administrator Scott Pruitt around the clock, which sent costs spiraling to $3.5 million over just 11 months, an internal watchdog said Tuesday.”

We found that the PSD has no final, approved standard operating procedures that address the level of protection required for the Administrator or how those services are to be provided. The failure to have effective and current standard operating procedures can result in the organization having unclear lines of authority, inconsistent practices, inappropriate or inadequate staffing, and excessive or unnecessary costs. For example, the PSD incurred over $3.5 million in costs from February 1, 2017 through December 31, 2017 – an increase of over 110 percent compared to the prior period’s costs of $1.6 million – without documented justification.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Inspector General Report No. 18-P-0239 September 4, 2018

But “EPA officials argued Pruitt’s 24/7 security protection was necessary amid escalated risk,” claiming that because of Pruitt’s ‘long history challenging the agency” and “his quest” to target some environmental regulations enacted under the Obama administration “made him a target for criticism.”

The OIG report did cite a later pending report into ‘recent threat investigations” but, Bloomberg said, the documentation for justification didn’t come “until six months after the agency had already decided to boost Pruitt’s protection.”

The report compared former President Obama’s EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s security detail which included six full-time agents and supplied ‘door-to-door’ protection, Bloomberg reports, but that Pruitt’s “19-agent security team easily dwarfed that, with his protective detail keeping watch day and night, possibly accompanying him on personal trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl.”

The EPA responded to the OIG’s report in an emailed statement, saying that the “EPA disagrees with the OIG’s characterization of how a level of protective services is determined,” adding that a threat analysis “cannot be the sole source of information used to determine if protective services are provided or the level of protection.”

However, the Inspector General made 12 recommendations, saying the “agency took or agreed to take sufficient corrective actions for four of our 12  recommendation, but the remaining eight remain unresolved.”

In an attached letter addressed to the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance the OIG requested a meeting with that office to begin the resolution process on the remaining eight unresolved recommendations.

You can read the full report here.

The EPA’s OIG investigation over this issue is just one of many open investigations, of which there were more than a dozen, “not counting some informal and non-public inquires,” Bloomberg reported in July, listing investigations into his travels; a “Capitol Hill bedroom” by the day rental for $50 ‘just for the days used” from a lobbyist, who turned out to be J. Steven Hart; two separate investigations over lobbying law violations; salaries given to two ‘top aid’ staffers  totaling tens of thousands of dollars; allegations Pruitt retaliated against staff who challenged him over his expenditures and engaged in inappropriate use of their time such as sending them on personal errands to track down a mattress in a Trump hotel; and an audit of his use of multiple email accounts to avoid FOI requests, were just a few among the list of active investigations still on-going.

Among the pending requests for investigations into Pruitt’s actions Bloomberg listed, Democrats asked President Trump to conduct his own investigation of allegations made by Kevin Chmielewski who was fired from the EPA, alleging he was retaliated against by Pruitt when he objected to his [Pruitt’s] spending.

Chmielewski, who was a ‘former aide to Trump’s presidential campaign” and described himself “as a lifelong Republican,” gave a detailed interview with Democrat lawmakers, Bloomberg said, “painting an ‘extremely troubling picture’ of waste, unethical behavior and “potentially illegal” actions by the agency’s administrator, said House and Senate Democrats.”

Chmielewski made assertions that Pruitt “wanted to use sirens so his government vehicle could more swiftly navigate traffic,” describing expenditures on “bulletproof vests, weapons, and ‘one or more new SUV’s’,” and contracting with private Italian security on a trip to Italy, and that Pruitt would take ‘pricey’ trips which were “dictated by his desire to visit specific cities and countries, not by legitimate government business” and that staff were to find ways to justify trips, including to Oklahoma, as EPA expenditures.

After Pruitt’s resignation, President Trump named Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, as the acting EPA Administrator. Wheeler began serving in that role July 9. It is not known if President Trump will officially nominate Wheeler as Administrator.

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