Cost of Pruitt's soundproof booth close to $43k: report

Cost of Pruitt's soundproof booth close to $43k: report
© Greg Nash

A soundproof phone booth that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittGovernment watchdog probing EPA’s handling of Hurricane Harvey response Wheeler won’t stop America’s addiction to fossil fuels Overnight Energy: Trump rolls back methane pollution rule | EPA watchdog to step down | China puts tariffs on US gas MORE ordered for his office has actually cost the agency close to $43,000, according to a new report.

In addition to the cost of the $25,000 phone booth, The Washington Post reported Wednesday that preparations for the unit have cost about $18,000. That included removing television surveillance equipment and installing a drop ceiling.

The Post reported in September that the EPA would spend nearly $25,000 to install a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for Pruitt, despite there already being a SCIF in a separate area of the building.

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It now reports that the additional expenses, found through a review of federal contracts, included $7,978 to remove closed circuit television equipment; $3,470 to pour a 55-square-foot, 2-foot-thick concrete slab; the installation of a drop ceiling at a cost of $3,361; and patching and painting work that cost $3,350. The records were found by the watchdog group American Oversight through a public records request, according to the Post.

EPA officials defended the booth, saying that it was necessary for Pruitt to have a secure area to communicate with the White House.

The EPA Inspector General said in December that his office would investigate the booth, after facing pressure from House Democrats who raised concerns about whether the spending was compliant with appropriations law.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told The Hill that the expense was “old news.”

“In September of 2017 we thoroughly discussed why this secure communications line was needed for the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox declined to comment on the additional costs of the pre-installation work to the Post.

Pruitt has separately come under scrutiny for his use of an 18-person, 24/7 security detail.

He also has been criticized for spending more than $90,000 in taxpayer dollars on travel for just part of the month of June. The expenses included a $1,641.43 first-class ticket for a trip from Washington, D.C., to New York, and a military jet for him and members of his staff to travel to Rome. 

Pruitt has defended his use of business class or first class  flights, saying that the decisions were made by his security detail after several "incidents" with other passengers in coach related to the "toxic" political environment.

Pruitt has now missed the deadline to turn over travel documents and explanation to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGowdy requests FEMA administrator’s travel records amid allegations Nunes: Russia probe documents should be released before election Gowdy: House Intel panel should release all transcripts from Russia probe MORE (R-S.C.).

“We have been in contact with Chairman Gowdy and are accommodating his request as quickly as possible,” Wilcox said. 

--This report was updated at 11:25 a.m.