Mar 14, 2018, 3:06 PM ET

EPA spent more than $43,000 on a 'secure phone booth' for Scott Pruitt’s office


The Environmental Protection Agency spent more than $43,000 to install a private phone booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt's office, according to newly released federal records - more than the $25,000 the agency confirmed to ABC News it originally spent for the booth.

A $24,570 contract described as "privacy booth for the administrator" is listed in a federal database from August 2017.

However, the agency also paid almost $8,000 to remove CCTV equipment from the administrator's office before the booth was to be installed, according to another contract listed in the database as being signed in September.

In July the agency also paid about $3,350 to patch and paint the walls in that area of his office.

Later that month the agency spent an additional $3,470 to install a 55 square foot concrete floor and in September the EPA paid $3,360 to install a drop ceiling in the administrator's "closet," according to invoices in agency documents obtained by the watchdog group American Oversight through a Freedom of Information Act request and publicly released on Wednesday. The story was first reported by the Washington Post.

The total costs for prep work and construction of the booth itself is roughly $43,000 — a figure Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce committee say they want Pruitt to answer questions about.

House Energy and Commerce committee ranking member Frank Pallone, D-N.J, asked the EPA inspector general to look into the private phone booth when it was first reported and said on Wednesday that Pruitt needs to answer questions before congress about the expense.

PHOTO: Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stands for a photograph after an interview in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington, Oct. 25, 2017. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), stands for a photograph after an interview in his office at the EPA headquarters in Washington, Oct. 25, 2017.

“Pruitt’s privacy booth was already a giant waste of money, and the price tag just gets bigger. While I’m glad GAO is investigating, it’s long past time for Congressional Republicans to hold Administrator Pruitt accountable for his abuse of taxpayer funds,” Pallone told ABC News in a statement. “It’s time for Pruitt to explain himself before our committee.”

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox called the expenditures in the documents "old news."

“This is old news; because 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 in a statement.

Pruitt’s spending—especially on security— has been under scrutiny from Congress and the watchdog division of the agency as well as the Government Accountability Office.

The EPA spent almost $2,500 to install biometric locks with fingerprint readers in Pruitt's office in April and spent about $3,000 to have his office swept for listening devices in March.

The agency says it has increased Pruitt’s security detail in response to an "unprecedented" number of threats and has cited security reasons for the administrator's first class travel.

Pruitt said in February that there have been incidents when he travels and that security decisions were made by his staff.

"There have been instances, unfortunately, during my time as administrator as I've flown and I spent time of interaction that's not been the best and so ingress and egress off the plane, the security aspect, those are decision all made by our detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. I don't make any of those decisions," Pruitt told ABC affiliate WMUR.

Pruitt recently said that he would direct his staff to find a new plan that involved flying in coach.

The agency has declined to provide specific details about the a private phone booth and whether it meets the requirements as a facility used for secure communications to discuss classified information, known as a SCIF. The EPA already has a SCIF elsewhere in its headquarters.

Pruitt, during a hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee in December, said that he needs the secure phone to communicate with the president and that he couldn't say exactly how often he will need to use the booth.

The EPA's inspector general told that committee that it plans to look into the spending on the soundproof booth but that review is now being conducted by the Government Accountability Office.

The inspector general is also conducting a review of Pruitt's travel costs that is expected to be complete later this year.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, who sits on that chamber’s Environment and Public Works committee, has also asked Pruitt for more information about the contract to sweep his office for bugs. Whitehouse wrote in a letter that the company used to conduct the sweep has a connection to the head of Pruitt's security detail and the senator wants more information on whether the contract was awarded through the proper procedure.

There are also questions about Trump administration cabinet officials’ spending on office decorations, such as a $31,000 dining set for the office of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

The documents released by American Oversight on Wednesday also show that the EPA spent $2,963 on a standing desk for Pruitt. In one of the emails a staffer from the Office of the Administrator wrote that cheaper desks were available but they were made overseas and agencies are required to buy American-made products under the Buy America Act.

Cabinet secretaries are limited to $5,000 to spend to redecorate their office during the transition to the new administration, according to federal law. Any spending higher than that has to be reported to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

News - EPA spent more than $43,000 on a 'secure phone booth' for Scott Pruitt’s office

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  • Robert Thompson

    I worked in an office where we had a phone booth constructed. The reason why is simple. We worked in cubes with no privacy. This reminds me of the phony scandal about Nancy Reagan buying china. ABC and the other media got all upset about her buying china. The fact was that the White House couldn't hold a dinner with a complete set of china. Very fake news.

  • Krimson

    There's that MAGA for you!


    Wow!! Is this Clark Kent's phone booth?

  • Thomas

    Still trying to figure out why the Director of the EPA needs a Cone of Silence in the office?

  • paul_I

    Let's hear it for open and transparent government. We would be better off if this privacy booth did not allow communication in or out.

  • Erwin Schrodinger

    The only people so paranoid about secrecy are spies and criminals... and Pruitt ain't no spy.

  • mikevietvet68/69

    this is republican fiscal responsibility? this gang of cabinet members only have one thing in mind and that is to destroy all sane projects obama set in place....whose friend is the contractor who was awarded this piece of pie? can't and does not say it was done by union men cause repubs hate union people.

  • Tyler U

    Must be nice to have all of these special securities added. Would really hate for anyone to listen in on your idea for improving the environment, right? Unless, of course, those ideas aren't about improving the environment, and instead, are plans that the public would really not appreciate finding out about. We know what Pruitt did while he was in Oklahoma, so it's no secret what he is trying to do as head of the EPA. Thing is, you better hurry, Scott, because you won't be there long enough to do any serious damage. There isn't a project on earth than can cause the environmental devastation you intend to cause in the next 2.5 years. The next head is going to use your booth, your bio-metric locks - all of it, to make sure that they undo everything, and you won't be able to listen in when they make the next set of protections air tight, so the next loser like you won't be able to undo it.

    And you can sit there and watch, with all your big oil buddies, as it all falls apart around you, knowing there is nothing you will be able to do about it. I will laugh at your frustration, and I will laugh harder when I hear you complaining, be it in court or wherever, that they are using a private booth, secure facility, etc to communicate and make all of this happen. You won't know how to stop it because you won't know what they are discussing. And the icing on the cake is that they won't even need any of those t hings, because the public won't hate THEM.

  • Tyler U

    Isn't great how, before, when a US representative or administrator did a terrible job, resulting in the public absolutely hating them, their employment was terminated, but now, they get to keep their jobs, and further abuse the taxpayers to provide better protection for themselves. It's very clearly stopped being about representing the public, and started being about using the public to represent yourself. We are here to pay their bills apparently. You want a purse, a private jet, private phone booths or a golden toilet seat? Who's going to stop you?

    I know that both sides are corrupt as hell. I get that and I agree with that, but the fact that this admin is so blatant about it is appalling. They are literally a bunch of rich guys who have shown nothing but hate toward the very organizations they are now heading, and they are now using these organizations as their very own private credit cards, compliment the tax payers, while they very openly tear the organization down so they go on to do exactly what it was the organizations were designed to prevent.

  • virgillionhere

    Probably just a Get Smart fan. And why not travel in class everywhere?

    He's an elite republican. Maybe even, gulp, a job creator!

  • Believer

    Looks like Pruit is building his very private BUNKER to deal with his secretive deals unlike Jared asking the russians to use their bunkers to avoid being HEARD by America's intelligent waves. Pruitt dismantled the EP A so why the bunkers in his closet & phones?
    Congress needs to clean white house abuses. Jared should of been kicked out since the topic of his request of using russian bunkers to AVOID AMERICAN INTEL. Big security risk in Russian blackmail as to why Jared made that request or if russians have Donald name in that request in Russian tapes. Impeach!

  • Mike Kennedy

    Has Pruitt ever been checked for paranoia? Since when have spies made the EPA a target for spying and espionage?


    Corruption knows no limits in this regime.

  • Lee Thompson

    So the $25,000 phone booth actually cost us, the taxpayer, $43,000. Trump and his billionaire cabinet members sure enjoy spending taxpayer dollars. We pay for their tax cuts AND their outlandish, harebrained ideas and first class, private travel and for their junkets to sightsee in Europe

  • Puddin' Twain

    What’s he doing in there? Why won’t he come out? What’s taking him so long?

  • Furrmin The Cat

    He missed telling the truth by "that much."

  • Rubbed Sage

    He needs a shoe phone, too.

  • Bill

    Grifters all. Transparency has gone out the window at the WH.

  • SeattleWashOne

    He needed it so that people wouldn't hear him working with large companies to allow them to pollute, in exchange for payoffs.

  • doubledouble

    Oh boy
    The cone one silence.
    Check his shoes for a phone

  • Sonora Nomad

    Nah, Pruitt just doesn't want people to know what environmental safeguards Charles and David are telling him to trash.

  • Steve1956

    Just another trump appointed loser

  • IT-Worker-Since-1990

    He wanted a secure telephone system so he could call Putin for advice....

  • Hater_Baiter

    Is he paranoid or addicted to phone sex?

  • jon rhodes

    Many of Trump's appointees defy description. Trump as picked one goofy person after another for his "team." He actually told us that he was going to put together the "best" team ever. It's "One Flew Over The White House."

  • donnie vanderford

    Why does the head of the epa need a secure phone booth? He is not exactly the head of the cia.

  • Sailorboy

    So, he should be like Hillary and just do all his business without any security?

  • Prophet With Honor

    There was already a SCIF in the building.

  • Mari Marigold

    This entire administration is going to bleed the taxpayers dry before it's all said and done.