Senators inquire whether Scott Pruitt’s security chief steered EPA contract to associate

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December 2017. CREDIT: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

Two Senate Democrats asked Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday to provide information about the head of his security detail to determine whether the agent used his role in the agency to help influence who received EPA government contracts. Questions are being asked about whether any federal conflict-of-interest rules were violated in an instance where the agent has a financial interest in those awarded a security contract.

The security agent, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, has traveled with Pruitt on several trips as part of the administrator’s security detail. Perrotta also serves as a principal for Sequoia Security Group, a Maryland-based security firm, where he has worked since 2013. One of Perrotta’s colleagues at Sequoia Security Group, Edwin Steinmetz, runs a separate company that was among the contractors that reportedly conducted a security sweep of Pruitt’s office at the EPA’s headquarters building in 2017.

The Associated Press reported in December that the EPA had hired one or more private contractors to have Pruitt’s “office swept for hidden listening devices and bought sophisticated biometric locks for additional security.” That article noted that a $3,000 contract was given to Edwin Steinmetz Associates for a “bug sweep.”

Pruitt also had biometric locks installed in his office last year by a different firm. The two contracts awarded for the biometric locks were both under the $3,500 threshold for public reporting. According to the Washington Post, the company that won that contract is not linked to Steinmetz.

Along with running his own firm, Steinmetz serves as vice president of technical surveillance countermeasures for Sequoia Security Group. “In other words, he is a business partner of Mr. Perrotta,” Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Tom Carper (D-DE) wrote in a letter sent to Pruitt on Tuesday seeking more information about Perrotta’s role at the EPA.

“We understand that at least one business partner of Mr. Perrotta’s at Sequoia, Edwin Steinmetz, has received a security-related contract from EPA within the last year,” the senators wrote in their letter.

“These facts raise questions about Mr. Perrotta’s compliance with EPA regulations and concerns that he may have used his position at the agency to influence the award of EPA contracts to a person or company in which he has a financial interest.”

Last October, the EPA expanded the number of security personnel dedicated to protecting Pruitt by 12, raising the administrator’s total security detail to 30 guards. 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.

Whitehouse and Carper asked Pruitt for documentation of all requests for approval of outside employment by Perrotta and all approvals given by the EPA for his outside employment. The senators are also seeking all financial disclosures made by Perrotta during his employment at the EPA. Both senators are on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the EPA. Carper is the top Democrat on the committee.

The senators also asked the EPA to provide copies of all contracts between the EPA and Sequoia Security Group, and Edwin Steinmetz Associates, along with copies of all three contracts related to the bug sweep and biometric locks identified in the Associated Press article. Furthermore, they asked whether Perrotta was involved in any decision related to the need for the security assessment of Pruitt’s office and the awarding of the contracts to Sequoia Security Group.

The Washington Post also reported Tuesday that Perrotta advised EPA officials to hire a member of the management team at Sequoia — Steinmetz — according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Perrotta has worked as a senior special agent with the U.S. government since 2004, according to his company’s website. “He is charged with a dual mission, protecting a member of the U.S. Presidential cabinet and coordinating protective intelligence information,” the website says.

Perrotta had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published.

When asked by ThinkProgress about whether Perrotta helped him win the EPA contract, Steinmetz said he could not comment due to nondisclosure agreements, including being unable to generally confirm whether his firm won the contract. He was able to say that he has contracts with seven federal agencies to conduct similar work. The agencies use his company because it is the lowest bidder and his company can begin doing the work within 24 hours, Steinmetz explained.

“There are security agencies throughout the United States that use me. We do not give kickbacks or finder fees or any other type of incentives for anyone to recommend us,” he said.

In response to the senators’ letter, the EPA said security sweeps are common practice in government. Former EPA Administrators Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy also had their offices swept, EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said in a statement emailed to ThinkProgress.

“We looked at a couple of different vendors and career administrative officials approved the same vendor that the Office of the Inspector General used and other offices within EPA,” Wilcox said, referring to Edwin Steinmetz Associates.

In reference to the EPA using the same vendor as the Office of the Inspector General and other offices within the agency for listening device sweeps, Rich Davidson, a spokesperson for Whitehouse, told ThinkProgress: “If Mr. Perrotta’s business partner has been garnering contracts elsewhere within the EPA, we look forward to reviewing that information in the agency’s response to the senators’ letter.”