Two senior Senate Democrats asked Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday to provide details about how a business associate of the head of his security detail got a security contract with the agency.
Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta — who heads Pruitt's security detail and also serves as a principal of Rockville-based Sequoia Security Group — advised EPA officials to hire a member of the management team at Sequoia, Edwin Steinmetz, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal agency decisions.
The $3,000 "communications audit" contract to sweep Pruitt's office on March 3 for concealed listening devices was conducted by Edwin Steinmetz Associates, according to records obtained by the Post.
The Associated Press reported last year that the EPA had hired Steinmetz to conduct the bug sweep, though it did not report that Perrotta had suggested agency officials seek Steinmetz's services or that they are in business together.
Pruitt also had biometric locks installed in his office last year by a different firm, according to documents obtained by the Post, for a cost of $5,656.75.
Those expenditures, first reported by AP, weren't disclosed on the government's contracting website because they were split into two payments and the threshold for reporting stands at $3,500. That contract, unlike the security sweep, involved competition by at least two vendors.
Steinmetz is listed as Sequoia's vice president of technical surveillance measures. And while it was his own firm that received the bug-sweeping contract, Sens. Thomas R. Carper (Del.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee are seeking documentation that Perrotta obeyed federal conflict-of-interest rules.
"These facts raise questions about Mr. Perrotta's compliance with EPA regulations and concerns that he may have used his position at the agency to influence the award of EPA contracts to a person or company in which he has a financial interest," they wrote in Tuesday's letter.
In a statement Tuesday morning, EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency "will respond to Senator Carper and Senator Whitehouse through the proper channel."
He added, "According to EPA's Protective Service, security sweeps are common practice in government, as former EPA Administrators Lisa Jackson and Gina McCarthy also had their office swept."
While there was no competitive bidding for Steinmetz's contract, Wilcox said the agency considered multiple vendors for the biometric locks used in Pruitt's office and for the EPA inspector general.
Another EPA official said that the agency's security office approved the expenditure of funds for Steinmetz's firm.
In an email Tuesday, Steinmetz said that he has performed work for numerous "federal entities" and that he is often recommended as "a neutral resource."
"They use me as I offer the lowest prices (under the bid threshold), can respond within 24 hrs and am recognized as an expert in the field," he wrote.
"Numerous Security Firms list me on their 'team' throughout the US, as a 'resource' and do not ask for any compensation or finders fee."
Under federal statute, the senators noted in Tuesday's letter, a government official cannot participate "in a … contract, claim … or other particular matter in which, to his knowledge, he, his … general partner, [or] organization in which he is serving as officer, director, trustee, general partner or employee … has a financial interest."
The letter continued, "EPA officials can only issue a waiver from this provision, in advance, if they determine that the employee's financial interest in the contract is not so substantial as to be deemed likely to affect the integrity of the services which the Government may expect from such employee."
Perrotta, a former Bronx criminal investigator and Secret Service agent who held several overseas posts, has protected EPA leaders dating to the George W. Bush administration. Despite that full-time job, he has pursued numerous side ventures over the years.
He was head of a contracting business, P&P Construction, from 2004 through late 2012, according to LinkedIn and various public records. He wrote that he began the business "as a hobby" and "accomplished numerous home improvement projects throughout the D.C. area."
Since early 2013, he has managed Sequoia, a "boutique security and investigative firm." On Sequoia's website, Perrotta is listed as the firm's principal leader. In the past, he also has referred to himself as the company's "founder and CEO."
Steinmetz, meanwhile, is listed as part of the firm's "management team."
His online biography says he has "over 30 years of combined law enforcement, public and private sector experience in 'specialized' security services," and that he is an expert in conducting surveillance sweeps.
Steinmetz's firm, Edwin Steinmetz Associates, has received at least one other government contract, according to public records — a $25,000 award last year from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for "miscellaneous alarm, signal and security detection systems."
The firm is registered at what appears to be Steinmetz's home address in New Jersey. The company's website reads, "Bug sweeping is our work."
On his LinkedIn page, Steinmetz lists himself as having worked as a "privacy officer" for Sequoia since 2013, adding that he has provided security sweeps "for a number of high profile corporate clients throughout the United States."
Pruitt's security expenses during his short tenure have repeatedly drawn scrutiny. Shortly after taking office in February 2017, he switched to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week protective detail, drawn in part from the agency's environmental crime investigation staff, after his staff concluded that he faced a higher level of threat than did his predecessors.
After a public critic confronted the administrator while traveling last spring, according to a top EPA official, it was Perrotta who recommended that Pruitt fly in either first or business class to avoid such situations.
Henry Barnet, who directs the EPA's Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training, said in an interview with The Washington Post last month that Perrotta's recommendation was prompted by an incident in which a person approached Pruitt "with threatening language" that was "vulgar."
Speaking in New Hampshire last month, Pruitt emphasized that members of his security detail decide on his travel arrangements. "I'm not involved in any of those decisions. Those are all made by the detail, the security assessment in addition to the chief of staff," he said.
Perrotta has traveled with Pruitt on multiple occasions, the senators noted, including to Kentucky, Oklahoma, Colorado and North Dakota last summer. At Sequoia, Perrotta has advertised his expertise in "threat analysis and mitigation" and "VIP travel."
Pruitt spent nearly $25,000 in agency funds last year to build a secure, soundproof communications booth in his office. The EPA inspector general's office confirmed in December that it would investigate the matter, though Pruitt told lawmakers he installed the booth to have confidential conversations with key administration officials.
"It's necessary for me to be able to do my job," Pruitt said during a hearing on Capitol Hill.
In their letter, Carper and Whitehouse asked for details about the agency approval Perrotta received for his outside employment, as well as how he has weighed in on Pruitt's security measures.
"Please provide any written assessments authored in whole or in part, or reviewed by, Mr. Perrotta, of security threats to you," they wrote, "including but not limited to the determination that security considerations required you to fly first-class, that you needed to have your office swept for electronic listening devices, that you needed to install biometric locks, that you needed a secure communications booth, that you require round-the-clock security protection, and any other non-disclosed security measure or project you have decided to undertake."
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