EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s 24-hour security in Washington extends to at least some of his personal trips, according to a letter Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse sent to the department’s inspector general and shared with CNN.
The letter, written based on information that Whitehouse says he confidentially obtained from an unnamed source, raises new questions about the cost of Pruitt’s unprecedented EPA-funded security, and alleges that Pruitt has used his security detail while on non-official business, including trips home to Tulsa, Oklahoma, a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl game.
Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, says the new details should be added to the inspector general’s ongoing investigation into Pruitt’s travel expenses and use of a 24/7 security detail. The documents, he wrote, raise concern “significant agency resources are being devoted to administrator Pruitt’s ’round-the-clock security, even when he is traveling on non-official business.”
Whitehouse adds, “While I consider matters of personal security to be extremely serious, personal security should never be used as a pretext to obtain special treatment.”
The letter alleges that six weekly schedules and other explanatory documents that were provided to him show that Pruitt used between two and three dozen different agents during a six-week period.
Asked about the letter, the EPA told CNN that “Administrator Pruitt follows the same security protocol whether he’s in his personal or official capacity,” but declined to further elaborate on those protocols.
The EPA has said that Pruitt has faced unprecedented threats, including direct threats on his life, leading to equally unprecedented security measures.
CNN reached out to the EPA’s Office of Inspector General, which did not comment on the case.
Pruitt has been under increased scrutiny for citing security as the reason he flew first class on the government’s tab, racking up nearly $200,000 in travel costs. On one trip to Italy, from June 5-12 of last year, his security detail alone amounted to more than $30,000.
Several Trump Cabinet members have faced criticism for their travels. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has several open investigations into his use of private aircraft and attendance at political events. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price left after probes of his use of private planes. And recently fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin began his downward spiral after an inspector general report found he used agency funds on a trip for his wife.
Whitehouse’s office would not allow the documents or schedules to be reviewed, saying they contain sensitive security information. In addition to the family trips to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl game, the letter also alleges the security officials accompanied Pruitt on a trip to a December 29 University of Kentucky basketball game in Lexington.
Whitehouse’s letter also states that “more than one source” says Pruitt “frequently requested per diem lodging expenses in excess of the federal government’s established daily rate.”
Pruitt’s travel and security costs have gotten the attention of the EPA’s inspector general and his fellow Republicans, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, who recently made Pruitt turn over all of his travel records for his first year.
In a letter to Gowdy, Pruitt said his security team required him to be near the front of the plane for a quick exit in the case of an emergency. However, Pruitt did not turn over the waivers that are necessary to fly in an upgraded cabin.
Whitehouse’s letter asks the inspector general to see if Pruitt flies first class on non-official trips, and if so, whether the EPA pays for the security detail’s flights, accommodations and per diems.
Pruitt told CBS News recently: “There’s a change coming” in the way he travels, “including flying coach,” and in the way his staff will accommodate security threats.
In October, CNN reported the EPA was beefing up Pruitt’s 24/7 security, hiring a dozen more agents. At the time CNN calculated salaries alone for the full team would cost at least $2 million per year, according to figures compiled from public documents. Those numbers do not include costs such as training, equipment, and travel.
CNN also reported that some agents were pulled from other EPA jobs where they had been charged with investigating environmental crimes, and Whitehouse asks the inspector general to look at the impact of the shift in personnel.