The Environmental Protection Agency confirmed Friday that it has spent more than $3.5 million on Administrator Scott Pruitt's security team since taking office, significantly more than his two predecessors.
As more ethical questions prompted investigations into the cost of Pruitt's security detail and travel, members of Congress have questioned whether the increased spending was justified.
The agency says that Pruitt needed 24/7 security – more than previous administrators – in response to an "unprecedented number of threats" against him. Because of the threats, the EPA says, Pruit and his security team needed to fly first class and the total includes those costs.
Documents released by the EPA show that the agency spent more than $2.7 million on payroll for the administrator's security detail between April 2017 and March 2018 and nearly $760,000 on travel for his detail during the same 12 months.
Pruitt was sworn in in mid-February 2017. The agency spent almost $500,000 in that January - March fiscal quarter but it's not clear how much of that was after Pruitt was confirmed.
The documents show that agency spent significantly less on the security detail for the two previous EPA administrators under the Obama administration, Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy. Payroll and travel for Jackson's detail cost about $1.9 million for her first year in office in 2009 and 2010. McCarthy's detail cost almost $2 million for her first year starting in July 2013.
An EPA spokesman said the agency plans to proactively release security costs multiple times a year to be more transparent. The documents released this week are posted on a page of the EPA's website for materials frequently requested through the Freedom of Information Act.
“Administrator Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him and to provide transparency EPA will post the costs of his security detail and pro-actively release these numbers on a quarterly basis. Americans should all agree that members of the President’s cabinet should be kept safe from violent threats," EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement.
Pruitt said he would tell his staff to switch him to more flights in coach earlier this year but the former head of his security detail has defended the decision to increase security. Investigations into threats against Pruitt that have been publicly released found no imminent threat to his safety, despite language like calling Pruitt "evil" or a message saying that they hope a family member would die.
At least two investigations into reported threats against Pruitt are still ongoing.
The agency released documents with the cost of both salary and travel for the administrator's protective detail on its website, with the total cost for each fiscal quarter going back to the 2009 fiscal year.
Despite the criticism over the cost of his security detail President Donald Trump has defended Pruitt, saying that Pruitt received death threats.
While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2018
Documents released by the EPA inspector general, however, have questioned whether the threats were credible and properly vetted to justify upping Pruitt's security to 24/7. The inspector general also found that the agency decided to increase Pruitt's security before he took office, saying that one office was told "Pruitt requested 24/7 protection once he was confirmed as administrator."
The EPA's inspector general is currently looking into the cost of Pruitt's security detail.