By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Tuesday pressed Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt to explain how an agency contract was awarded last year to the business associate of a member of his personal security detail.
In a letter to Pruitt, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee raised concerns that the security detail member, Pasquale Perrotta, may have exercised improper influence in the awarding of the contract.
Perrotta is also a principal at Sequoia Security Group. His business partner received a contract from the EPA last year to sweep Pruitt's office for listening devices, the Associated Press reported in December.
"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," Democratic Senators Tom Carper and Sheldon Whitehouse wrote.
The letter was sent a day after Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee turned up the heat on Pruitt over political appointees at the agency who had received special permission to work for outside clients.
In a letter to Pruitt, the House lawmakers said there were "serious concerns of impartiality of current U.S. EPA political appointees" and they asked for additional information regarding appointees engaged in outside activities that were compensated.
Several current political appointees got approval from the EPA's ethics office to engage in such activities, agency records show.
They include John Konkus, deputy associate administrator of public affairs, who was tapped by Pruitt to screen EPA grants, weeding out those that dealt with climate change or other issues not considered a priority by the Trump administration, the Washington Post reported last year.
In the documents it shared with the House Democrats the EPA redacted the names of Konkus' clients, for which he was allowed to provide "consultative media advice."
The House Democratic lawmakers will wait for Pruitt to respond to their letter before determining their next steps, said C.J. Young, the spokesman for the Democrats on the committee.
"We're particularly interested in figuring out who the secret clients are that these Trump political appointees are working for on the side," Young said on Tuesday.
The EPA did not respond to Reuters' requests for comment.
Another EPA political appointee, Patrick Davis, got permission from the ethics office to work as a sales director for a company called Telephone Town Hall Meeting.
Davis, who is senior advisor for public engagement to the regional administrator in the EPA’s Denver office, also owns a political consulting firm in Colorado.
Norm Eisen, who served as a special assistant to former President Barack Obama on ethics and government reform, criticized the moonlighting.
"I even made people quit uncompensated non-profit outside positions because of conflicts risks," he wrote on Twitter. "This is FOR profit work that could conflict with official duties."
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Peter Szekely and Paul Simao)