The Environmental Protection Agency is spending nearly $25,000 to build a soundproof communications booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, according to media reports.
The Washington Post first reported details of the contract on Tuesday evening, which will cost the government $24,570. The “privacy booth” will be installed by Oct. 9, so Pruitt can have “a secured communication area in the administrator’s office so secured calls can be received and made,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Post in a statement.
“Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held,” Bowman continued. “This is something which a number, if not all, cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated.”
A salesman for the company installing the booth, Acoustical Solutions, told The New York Times the contract was unusual and ended up being nearly four times the price of comparable booths after the EPA requested modifications.
“They wanted a secure phone and computer room, essentially for sensitive information,” the salesman, Steve Snider, told the Times. He noted the booths usually cost $5,000 to $6,000 but that in Pruitt’s booth, “you can’t hear what’s going on outside, but conversely people outside can’t hear what’s going on inside.”
The Post notes the EPA already has a secure phone booth on another floor of the building.
Under Pruitt, the EPA has faced allegations of a lack of transparency throughout the agency. Until recently, the EPA refused to release the administrator’s schedule to the public, and media reports say some employees have been told to leave behind cellphones during meetings with him and to not take notes.
Pruitt also has a full-time security detail, something none of his predecessors had requested. The administrator is also one of several Cabinet officials to come under fire for taking costly private flights.
Critics have described the installation of the phone booth in Pruitt’s office as “the height of paranoia.”
“As someone who spent a lot of time in the administrator’s office, I can tell you that there was nothing like this,” Liz Purchia, a former head of communications at the EPA, told CNN. “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 and the Office of Homeland Security from documenting use of the room and the information that warrants protection.”
Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, also said the recent reports take accusations about transparency within the EPA “to a new extreme.”