The Environmental Protection Agency is expanding the number of security personnel dedicated to protecting agency chief Scott Pruitt by 12, raising the administrator’s total security detail to 30 guards.
Prior to the latest boost in protection, the EPA’s Criminal Investigation Division was providing an 18-member security team that worked in shifts to guard the administrator around the clock. The millions of dollars spent on guarding Pruitt is coming at a time when the Trump administration wants to cut the EPA’s budget by 30 percent, including major cuts to the agency’s environmental enforcement program.
The salaries for Pruitt’s security detail will cost at least $2 million per year, CNN reported Monday. That cost does not include funding to cover training, equipment, or travel.
No previous EPA administrator has ever received a 24/7 security detail. Two prior administrators were guarded when getting transported to meetings or on trips. During the first three months of Pruitt’s tenure at the EPA, the government spent more than $800,000 on security for him, almost twice the cost of security for each of his two predecessors — Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson — over similar time periods.
The EPA’s inspector general office has investigated at least 70 threats against the administrator since he took over the position in February. Pruitt reportedly has received four to five times the number of threats against McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator under President Barack Obama.
Patrick Sullivan, EPA assistant inspector general, told CNN that Pruitt has received a variety of death threats from, “’I’m going to put a bullet in your brain” to implied threats — “If you don’t classify this particular chemical in this particular way, I’m going to hurt you.”
The EPA is pulling officers who typically investigate environmental crimes to serve on Pruitt’s security detail. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes a nearly 24 percent cut in funds for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, which houses the Office of Civil Enforcement.
Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator under President George W. Bush, said she frequently “walked to work at the EPA by myself.” In an interview with CNN, Whitman criticized Pruitt’s request for an expensive security detail while he also proposes deep cuts to the agency’s budget.
“If he has had enough serious death threats, then he shouldn’t have proposed the deep cuts to the EPA budget,” she told CNN. “What worries me is if these people are being used for protecting him, they are not cracking down on environmental crimes being committed by companies.”
Since assuming office, Pruitt has spent large amounts of money on extraneous expenses, including private chartered and military flights and a soundproof booth for his office. Such spending offers a stark contrast to the rhetoric of the former Oklahoma attorney general, who is a staunch proponent of small government and fiscal conservatism.
Soon after taking over as EPA administrator, Pruitt traveled to a coal mine in Pennsylvania to introduce his “back-to-basics” agenda that would weaken the agency’s climate action and enforcement efforts. Even as Pruitt’s security detail grows, the overall number of EPA staffers who work on environmental protection is declining as part of Pruitt’s mission to reduce the size of the agency. Through buyouts and early retirements, the EPA’s staff could soon shrink to the lowest level in more than 30 years, part of a push to reduce the workload of an agency that Trump once promised to eliminate “in almost every form.”
Pruitt has defended the Trump administration’s proposed 30 percent cut to the agency, telling members of Congress that he feels the EPA can “fulfill the mission of our agency with a trim budget.” And he’s championed cutting programs he deems a waste of taxpayer dollars, including less than $15,000 for 37 employees to use a private gym for a year — at an average cost of $34/month per person. Pruitt ended that program in April of this year, saying that “it was quite something to hear about that.”
As the administrator orders cutbacks in spending on other EPA employees, Pruitt is taking advantage of his position to have taxpayers pay for frequent trips home to Oklahoma and the use of charter planes for official travel.
Earlier this month, the EPA’s office of inspector general expanded its inquiry into Pruitt’s travel habits. The initial investigation focused on Pruitt’s flights to Oklahoma between March and May. The newly expanded probe will investigate other taxpayer-funded flights the EPA administrator took through September.