The Environmental Protection Agency has spent nearly $25,000 on a soundproof phone booth for administrator Scott Pruitt. The expenditure has drawn criticism from former EPA officials.
On Sept. 26, government contracting records disclosed that the EPA had commissioned a $24,570 phone booth made by the Virginia-based company Acoustical Solutions. The booth, designed for Pruitt's privacy, is scheduled to be completed on Oct. 9, The Washington Post reports.
"Their main goal was they wanted essentially a secure phone booth that couldn't be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping," said Steve Snider, a salesman for Acoustical Solutions.
EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman asserted in a statement that the expensive phone booth was a necessary security upgrade for the agency.
"Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held," Bowman said. "It's called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility ... This is something which a number, if not all, Cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated."
Former EPA officials noted that the agency already had an SCIF.
Snider, who had previously facilitated SCIF contracts with federal agencies, said that the EPA's latest request was the first time that an agency commissioned such a booth solely for the administrator's use.
"It's the first time that I've seen it," Snider said.
Liz Purchia-Gannon, who previously worked as a spokesperson for former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy of the Obama administration, blasted the expense of Pruitt's new SCIF.
"As someone who spent a lot of time in the administrator's office, I can tell you that there was nothing like this previously," Purchia-Gannon told The New York Times. "I can't imagine why this taxpayer expense would be necessary and why an extra secure room is needed in his office, other than to avoid staff."
Pruitt has also drawn criticism for his air travel. On Sept. 16, it was disclosed that the EPA administrator had used taxpayer dollars to charter a private plane for a flight between two cities in Colorado on Aug. 4, CBS News reports.
An EPA spokesperson stated that Pruitt chartered the private plane because his original flight had been delayed. On Sept. 27, the office of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper disclosed that they had offered Pruitt a flight on a state-funded plane.
"I can confirm staff offered him a ride and they declined," Hickenlooper spokesperson Jacque Montgomery told The Denver Post.
Eric Schaeffer, a former director of the EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement, asserted that the agency should release more details about the flight.
"There needs to be an explanation of what that cost was and why it was necessary ... Especially when the budget is shrinking for your agency, the expectation is that you'll travel as economically as possible," Schaeffer said. "Generally that does not include chartering private jets for your travel."