(Bloomberg) -- U.S. taxpayers spent at least $3.1 million guarding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt around the clock during his first year on the job, according to newly released records.
That price tag -- spent on protective agents’ pay and travel during 2017 -- is higher than the security cost for Pruitt’s immediate predecessors at the Environmental Protection Agency. Taxpayers spent $1.4 million during 2009 on pay and travel for the protective detail assigned to Administrator Lisa Jackson, who served under former President Barack Obama. Gina McCarthy, who was Obama’s second EPA administrator, racked up a $1.9 million security bill during her first full year on the job, according to the documents, which were released by the agency on Friday.
The higher cost dovetails with a boost in security surrounding Pruitt, whose long history challenging the agency he now leads and his quest to roll back some Obama-era regulations have made him a target for criticism. More than a week before Pruitt’s Feb. 17, 2017 swearing in, EPA and Trump transition team officials considered safeguarding him day and night.
The security upgrade goes beyond bodyguards. The EPA also purchased biometric locks for Pruitt’s office, spent some $43,000 installing a soundproof phone booth and paid for a contractor to sweep the site for hidden surveillance devices.
EPA officials say Pruitt’s 24/7 security protection has been necessary amid escalated threats. Pruitt told Bloomberg News in October that the quantity and type of threats made against him and his family have differed from those lobbed at previous administrators.
“Administrator Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him," said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox. "Americans should all agree that members of the President’s cabinet should be kept safe from violent threats."
The agency is committing to publicly post the cost of the administrator’s security detail and update the numbers on a quarterly basis, Wilcox said.
In 2017, the EPA spent $2.4 million paying Pruitt’s protective detail; another $733,737 went to travel costs for those agents. That compares to an average $1.7 million annual tab for the agents’ payroll and another $321,343 in average annual costs for their travel over the past nine years, including 2017 under Pruitt, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the newly released data.
The EPA’s internal watchdog is investigating Pruitt’s security protection, including the possibility that bodyguards accompanied him to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl. The matter has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers too; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, said he wants the investigators to determine whether the government paid for tickets for security agents to join Pruitt during personal trips to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and Disneyland over the following two days.
Separately, Pruitt is under investigation for an unorthodox $50-per-night rental of a Capitol Hill bedroom from a lobbyist, his use of taxpayer-funded travel and questionable spending decisions at the EPA.
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