The Environmental Protection Agency and its Office of Inspector General dispute whether the agency can adequately justify the level of around-the-clock security that former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt received during his tenure.
The EPA OIG, in a report released Tuesday, found that the cost of the administrator’s Protective Service Detail more than doubled during the first 11 months of Pruitt’s tenure at the agency “without documented justification,” compared to the previous 11-month period.
Between February 2017, when Pruitt took office, and December of that year, security costs for the administrator increased from $1.6 million to $3.5 million.
“We found that the Protective Service Detail has no approved procedures that address the level of protection it provides for the administrator or how those services are to be provided,” Jean Bloom, an auditor with OIG’s Office and Audit and Evaluation, said in an OIG podcast that accompanied the report. “The Protective Service Detail’s failure to establish procedures results in the organization not operating effectively, efficiently or consistently.”
In October 2016, the EPA assigned six full-time agents to provide “door-to-door protection” for former administrator Gina McCarthy. That level of security meant driving McCarthy to and from work in a government-owned car and back home.
But by the time Pruitt left the agency in July 2018, his protective detail expanded to include 19 agents — 10 full-time, nine part-time — providing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week security.
OIG, EPA at odds on law enforcement authority
In 2000, Government Accountability Office determined only two agencies, the Secret Service and the State Department, have the statutory law enforcement authority to protect executive branch officials.
Without law enforcement authority, the OIG says agency protective service personnel can’t make arrests, conduct investigations and carry a gun.
Many agencies rely on the U.S. Marshals Service to deputize their protective personnel as law enforcement officials.
Between 2010 and 2017, the EPA went through the Marshals Service to deputize Protective Service Detail agents assigned to cover the administrator, but it stopped doing so last year.
In a legal opinion dated June 29, Wendy Blake, the EPA’s associate general counsel, determined that sections of the U.S. Code giving the agency broad authority to investigate criminal violations of federal environmental laws and provide protective service agents also gave those EPA protective service agents the authority to act as federal law enforcement officers.
“Together, these statutes authorize the agency to provide a protective service detail to the administrator comprised of protective service agents with full law enforcement authority to carry firearms, execute warrants and make arrests,” Blake wrote.
OIG staff said they recently received the legal opinion from the agency’s Office of General Counsel, but only after repeatedly asking for it.
“For over a year, despite repeated requests by the OIG, the agency failed to provide a written legal opinion setting out a legal basis for the Protective Service Detail law enforcement authority,” Bloom said. “It wasn’t until after the audit team submitted a draft report that the agency’s Office of General Counsel provided us with a written legal opinion.”
Having only recently received the EPA’s legal opinion, the OIG wrote in its final report that it “could not determine whether PSD agents maintained law enforcement authority to provide protective services for the EPA administrator.”
The EPA’s Office of General Counsel and Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, in response to a draft report of the OIG’s findings, said they “disagree with the facts and legal conclusions set forth in the draft report.”
“The Office of Inspector General (OIG) draft report improperly conflates the agency’s general
authority to provide protective services with the ‘law enforcement authority’ of PSD agents,” the EPA wrote. “The authority to provide protective services is separate and apart from PSD agents’ authority to carry firearms, execute warrants, make arrests, and perform other law enforcement functions. This
improper conflation results in numerous errors throughout the draft report.”
‘Continued risks and specific threats’
In February 2017, the EPA transition team directed Pruitt’s Protective Service Detail to provide 24/7 protection — the level of protection given to other incoming Trump administration cabinet officials. The agency was supposed to review its level of protection of Pruitt two weeks after taking office.
The Protective Service Detail, along with EPA’s Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training and its Office of Homeland Security, were supposed to conduct a cost analysis and threat assessment to determine the level of security needed for Pruitt going forward.
The EPA released those cost-and-security reports six months later, but the OIG claims they don’t justify around-the-clock security for Pruitt.
“We found evidence of a cost analysis prepared for the decision meeting, but no threat analysis or documented decision to continue 24/7 protection,” the OIG wrote.
However, the EPA indicated in its response that it has maintained the level of protection for the administrator “due to continued risks and specific threats.” The agency added that a threat assessment only evaluates known threats.
“It does not address persons who do not make threats, who, according to the Secret Service, represent the majority of persons who attack public officials,” the agency wrote. “Thus, a threat assessment, while informative, is not dispositive of a decision to provide protection nor what level of protection should be provided. A protectee could be at risk even if there are no direct threats made against him or her.”