Reporter's notebook

The EPA Inspector General Isn’t Impressed With The Agency’s Effort To Explain Pruitt’s ‘Round The Clock Security Detail

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is photographed at the EPA on November 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is photographed at the EPA on November 15, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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September 4, 2018 3:06 pm

The EPA inspector general’s office reaffirmed Tuesday that the Trump transition team requested a 24/7 security detail for former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt before Pruitt even had the formal title. It was a decision with wide-reaching consequences for the agency. Law enforcement officers who normally investigate environmental violations were re-assigned to Pruitt’s personal detail. Security costs more than doubled what they were in the Obama administration.

So, why did the EPA administrator require so much security in the first place? No one has a good answer for that. The report put out by the EPA’s office of inspector general (OIG) today makes clear that neither Pruitt nor other EPA staff ever offered a good reason for needing around-the-clock security coverage. At one point, months after the 24/7 detail went into effect, the EPA cited the OIG itself — specifically, an OIG document containing a tally of threats against Pruitt — in an attempt to retroactively justify the intense security presence.

But that OIG document, today’s report makes clear, doesn’t actually say the threats made against Pruitt represented any real danger. The OIG report also makes clear that, despite repeated requests by the OIG from the earliest days of the Trump administration, the EPA never put together a threat assessment of the sort that would have been needed to justify the intense security. (The OIG is independent from the agency, and at times is combative with it.)

The EPA answered the OIG report in part by saying that a threat assessment wouldn’t have told the full story.

“A threat assessment, while informative, is not dispositive of a decision to provide protection nor what level of protection should be provided,” the EPA said in response to the OIG’s findings, citing the Secret Service’s standards. “A protectee could be at risk even if there are no direct threats made against him or her.”

The EPA said there’s no way to ensure that “all threats can be identified and risk eliminated.” It added: “Not all attackers make threats.”

The agency then essentially throws its hands up in exasperation: “Some protectees are at risk simply based on the positions they hold. We are, unfortunately, living in an era when political discourse is no longer polite and persons feel that political disagreements justify making statements on social media that incite violence.”

“For example,” the agency continued, “in early June 2018, Occupy Wall Street posted the current EPA Administrator’s home address and encouraged persons to ‘take yr pitchfork to him directly.’ The person who originally posted that message may not pose a threat, but someone like James Hodgkinson” — who shot up a Republican congressional baseball team practice before taking his own life last year — “could read that message and decide to take action.”

The OIG, in response, acknowledged that some of the EPA’s defense was legitimate: It called on the EPA to conduct a regular, more comprehensive “threat analysis” rather than simply conducting a “threat assessment,” because the former encompasses the latter along with a host of other measures.

But the OIG pointed out that, contrary to earlier claims, EPA officials were discussing possible justifications for the 24/7 detail as early as February 2017. EPA staff refused to share their reasons for doing so with the the OIG. The Protective Service Detail “was directed to provide 24/7 protection in February 2017,” but never formulated an official, sound justification for why, even though “the agency was aware that such protection needed to be justified.”

The OIG also made clear in its report today that the EPA isn’t doing as much as it would like to fix these issues. The EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance is “now proposing to conduct threat analyses only twice a year while previously stating it would do so every 90 days,” the OIG noted, adding that “additionally, the agency’s proposed corrective actions do not require the decisions related to the level of protection provided to the Administrator be documented.”

Those issues, the OIG said, remain “unresolved.”

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