EPA chief Scott Pruitt getting own $25000 soundproof booth

EPA chief Scott Pruitt getting own $25000 soundproof booth

The Environmental Protection Agency has signed a contract for almost $25,000 to build a soundproof communications booth for the office of the administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Critics say Pruitt has gone to unusual lengths to operate in secrecy at the EPA, where employees report he is often accompanied by armed guards even inside the agency, and avoids making important calls in his office. The contract was signed with Acoustical Solutions, a company that sells a range of sound and privacy products.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) sent a letter to the EPA's inspector general on Tuesday asking for the agency watchdog to review Pruitt's use of non-commercial flights, according to the Washington Post.

On Aug. 4, Pruitt flew on a private jet from Denver to Durango, Colorado, and back, because his commercial flight had been delayed by more than five hours, CNN reported, citing an EPA spokesman.

"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.

"What you are referring to is a secured communication area in the administrator's office so secured calls can be received and made", EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement.

No previous EPA administrators had such a setup.

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"Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held", Bowman said.

The EPA already has a SCIF in a separate area of the building, the Post reported, and it's unclear if Pruitt believes that it is out of date or somehow insufficient.

Former EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia-Gannon, who represented Gina McCarthy during Obama's administration, told The New York Times that constructing a privacy booth was "bizarre" and unprecedented.

In all three cases, the EPA spokesperson said that the agency's ethics office approved of the flights.

Stan Meiburg, who served as EPA's acting deputy administrator until earlier this year, said he only ever needed to enter a SCIF a handful of occasions each year. He's also shied away from using email, preferring to give orders personally. The detail now includes about 18 people to cover round-the-clock needs and his frequent travel schedule.

The agency's inspector general is also looking into special agents being pulled from their regular posts investigating environmental crimes to work as Pruitt's 24/7 security detail.

"It's the first time that I've seen it", Snider said.

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