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Senate Dem: Pruitt isn’t cooperating with ‘privacy booth’ probe

Senate Dem: Pruitt isn’t cooperating with ‘privacy booth’ probe

The top Senate Democrat overseeing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding said Monday the EPA isn’t cooperating with a high-profile spending investigation.

Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallFormer Sen. Carol Moseley Braun stumps for Interior post: 'A natural fit for me' Five House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline MORE (N.M.) implored EPA Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA's scientific integrity in question over science rule Major unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight MORE to cooperate with the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) probe into the more than $43,000 the agency spent to install a “privacy booth.” 

Udall, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee for EPA, said in a letter that the agency has not provided documents to the GAO, despite investigators’ multiple contacts.

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“I am alarmed that the EPA has failed — for nearly three months — to cooperate with GAO’s requests,” Udall wrote.

“The American people deserve an open and transparent budget process,” he added. “Given your role as a public servant and trustee of taxpayer funds, it is your fundamental responsibility to fully cooperate with GAO.”

GAO spokesman Chuck Young confirmed Udall’s characterization.

“The senator is correct — we have not yet received a formal response from EPA on this particular issue,” he said.

But the EPA said Udall is wrong.

“We do dispute that,” said EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox. “We are responding through the proper channels which presently include EPA’s Office of General Counsel answering questions from the Government Accountability Office.”

The Washington Post first reported in September that the EPA had agreed to spend nearly $25,000 to install a soundproof “privacy booth” in Pruitt’s office suite. With related spending, the cost for the project is now more than $43,000.

The EPA has sought to justify the booth by saying that Pruitt needs it to have secure phone conversations with parties including the White House.

“There are secured conversations that need to take place that I didn’t have access to,” the agency's director said in December. “Cabinet-level officials need to have access to secured communications.”

Udall’s new letter also takes issue with the EPA repeatedly referring to the booth as a sensitive compartmentalized information facility (SCIF), which denotes specific certifications for communications involving confidential government information.

“The agency communicated to this committee that the privacy booth would not be certified by any national security agency,” Udall wrote.

“Further, I understand that the EPA already has at least one fully functioning, certified SCIF and that there are only limited needs for EPA personnel to conduct secure communications. This calls into question if the obligation was a necessary expense associated with the administrator’s official duties related to national security considering that the privacy booth may not be certified to a level at which classified information could even be discussed.”