Democracy Dies in Darkness

Energy and Environment

Pruitt upgraded to a larger, customized SUV with bullet-resistant seat covers

April 18, 2018 at 1:33 PM

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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces rising scrutiny over several ethics issues, including his use of taxpayer money. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt upgraded his official car last year to a costlier, larger vehicle with bullet-resistant covers over bucket seats, according to federal records and interviews with current and former agency officials.

Recent EPA administrators had traveled in a Chevrolet Tahoe, and agency officials had arranged for Pruitt to use the same vehicle when he joined the administration in February last year. But he switched to a larger, newer and more high-end Chevy Suburban in June.

One former EPA official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation, said Pruitt remarked that he wanted the larger car because it was similar to ones in which some other Cabinet officials rode. The first year’s lease of the vehicle cost $10,200, according to federal contracting records.

The records show the EPA administrator’s office signed a lease in June on the Suburban, paying more than $300 extra per month for upgrades such as a leather interior, bucket seats in the second row and WiFi and GPS navigation. A representative at the Maryland-based company who provided the lease said the LT model that the EPA requested represents an upgrade from the LS model that is typical on government leases.

The monthly payment on the vehicle is $839, according to the contract.

The head of Pruitt’s security detail, Pasquale “Nino” Perrotta, subsequently approved the addition of Kevlar-like seat coverings to the vehicle at a cost of hundreds of dollars, according to one official, on the grounds that it served as a security precaution. Two current EPA officials confirmed both the rental of the Suburban and the seat covers.

“Security decisions are made by EPA’s Protective Service Detail and are similar to security protocol across the federal government,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the EPA sent out another statement saying that what covered the seats in Pruitt’s SUV were actually bullet-proof vests. “In response to an individual attempting to assassinate numerous Congressional Republicans while they practiced for a charity baseball game, EPA’s Protective Service Detail placed bullet-proof vests over each seat,” the agency said.

Federal records also show the EPA administrator’s office awarded another contract last month to a leasing company based in Connecticut for a 2018 Suburban with four-wheel-drive, extra captain’s chairs, a sunroof and GPS navigation. A representative at the company said it doesn’t appear the agency has taken possession of that vehicle. The representative declined to disclose any additional details on the arrangement, citing government confidentiality agreements.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Chevy Tahoe with four-wheel-drive that was used by Gina McCarthy, Pruitt’s predecessor as EPA administrator, has largely sat idle at the EPA’s headquarters, according to several current and former staffers. The agency had its lease renewed  Feb. 2, 2017, at a cost of $9,180.

The decision to customize a larger SUV is the latest instance of Pruitt seeking more elaborate trappings than his predecessors. He faces a congressional probe into his repeated use of first-class travel as well as other matters, such as a security sweep of his office and the installation of biometric locks. On Monday, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the EPA had violated federal spending laws by installing a secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office that cost taxpayers roughly $43,000.

Asked Tuesday about some of the allegations Pruitt faces, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the administrator’s policy approach but said President Trump would decide whether he remains in the Cabinet.

“Well, it’s up to the president to decide who his team is. Mr. Pruitt has already been confirmed by the Senate. Substantively, I think he has done an excellent job, certainly. In a state like mine, he’s a welcome change from what was there before,” McConnell said. “But it’s really up to the president to decide who his team is and whether he wants to continue the EPA administrator.”

The recent vehicle change does not mark the first time Pruitt has ordered a larger car at taxpayer expense. While serving as Oklahoma’s attorney general, he leased a large black SUV for his official transport, which was first reported by the Intercept on Thursday.

“I understand that he had a black SUV similar to the one the governor and the lieutenant governor had,” said Oklahoma’s state auditor, Gary Jones, in an interview Tuesday.

Pruitt’s predecessor as Oklahoma attorney general, Drew Edmondson, rode in a Ford Crown Victoria.

Read more:

Pruitt’s $43,00 soundproof booth violated federal laws, federal watchdog group says

Pruitt’s high-priced travel could leave him with a big tax bill

Internal documents question Pruitt’s justification for round-the-clock security detail

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's senior national affairs correspondent, covering the transformation of federal environmental policy. She's authored two books, "Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks" and "Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives." and has worked for The Post since 1998.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy. Dennis was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for a series of explanatory stories about the global financial crisis.

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