In letters to senators, watchdog says it had no role in assessing threats to Pruitt.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testified to Congress last month that his heightened security detail was prompted by threats “unprecedented in terms of quantity and type,” as confirmed in an inspector general report.
But he was contradicted on Monday by the EPA’s watchdog.
In May 14 letters to two senators, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. said that “EPA’s Protective Service Detail began providing 24/7 coverage of the administrator the first day he arrived at the EPA.” The decision was made by the agency’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training “after being informed that he had requested it once he was confirmed as administrator. The OIG played no role in this decision.”
The IG had also reported that the special agent in charge for Pruitt’s security—Pasqual “Nino” Perrotta—made the request, not the IG or the EPA Office of Homeland Security.
Pruitt, the subject of multiple investigations for spending on first-class travel, a sound-proof booth in his office and a 24/7 protective service unusually expensive for the head of EPA, told House members on two committees last month that he has been subjected to verbal threats from strangers at airports since he was confirmed on Feb. 17, 2017.
The senators on May 2 had written to the independent IG in response to a newly released August 2017 unique report from assistant IG Patrick Sullivan to EPA security staff. Released in redacted form under the Freedom of Information Act after an April request by Eric Lipton of The New York Times, it details some of the quoted threats (both against Pruitt and predecessor Gina McCarthy), many from social media, which included death wishes and name-calling such as “devil incarnate.”
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told Government Executive on Tuesday that, “As the report says, EPA’s Office of Inspector General does not determine security assessments. EPA’s Protective Service Detail handles security decisions and this particular decision was made before Administrator Pruitt arrived at EPA.”
The senators asked an array of questions on whether the IG’s office performs threat assessments, how threats to Pruitt compared with those to previous administrators, and how the IG determines what to audit or investigate. The inspector general explained that the August document was not a threat assessment, and that his office does perform more generic “threat investigations.” But that “does not necessarily mean that every case opened [by the inspector general] as a ‘threat investigation’ reveals evidence of an actual threat,” the IG’s letter said.
“A threat to a federal employee’s personal security is extremely serious, but so is using security as pretext for special treatment on the public dime,” said Sens. Tom Carper, D-Del., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in a joint statement on Monday. “This letter raises troubling questions about whether Administrator Pruitt told the truth during his testimony before the House. Now more than ever, Mr. Pruitt should come clean about his spending of taxpayer dollars on all manner of extravagances, and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle should demand he do so.”
The IG also explained to the senators that there is no “statutory or regulatory requirement for producing” a report such as the August 2017 memo. In response to other questions, the IG said no one from Pruitt’s staff had asked the IG for help in deciding what became controversial raises for Pruitt’s team, or help in preparing talking points for congressional hearings.
Because assistant IG Sullivan is a professional friend and colleague of Perrotta’s, the IG noted, he will recuse himself from future related probes as a precaution.