New controversies surrounding EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have become alarmingly routine. Donald Trump’s far-right EPA chief, who’s long opposed his agency’s work, has already faced all kinds of serious allegations on issues ranging from his taxpayer-funded travel to his defiance of his own scientists to his deceptive public rhetoric.What I didn’t expect was a new controversy about a very expensive phone booth. And yet, here’s the latest reporting from the Washington Post about Pruitt spending nearly $25,000 of taxpayer money to “construct a secure, soundproof communications booth.”
The agency signed a $24,570 contract earlier this summer with Acoustical Solutions, a Richmond-based company, for a “privacy booth for the administrator.” The company sells and installs an array of sound-dampening and privacy products, from ceiling baffles to full-scale enclosures like the one purchased by the EPA. The project’s scheduled completion date is Oct. 9, according to the contract.
Typically, such soundproof booths are used to conduct hearing tests. But the EPA sought a customized version – one that eventually would cost several times more than a typical model – that Pruitt can use to communicate privately.
The original defense from Pruitt’s spokesperson is that he needs a “secured communication area” because all federal agencies need something called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), where officials can review sensitive and classified materials.
And that might make sense were it not for the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency already has a SCIF.
Stepping back, the broader context suggests Scott Pruitt’s leadership of the EPA isn’t just regressive; it’s also a little creepy.
The New York Times recently reported, for example, that many career EPA officials now have limited access to the floor where Pruitt works. Before meeting with Pruitt, some employees have been asked not to bring their cellphones into his office, and they’re not supposed to take notes, either. The piece added that the Oklahoma Republican “is taking extraordinary measures to conceal his actions.”
And this was before we learned of the $24,570 phone booth.
All of this comes on the heels of reports that Pruitt now has an 18-member security detail – that’s not a typo – made up of armed personnel who guard him 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Some members of this security detail were responsible for investigating environmental crimes, but now they’re guarding the EPA chief directly.
In case this isn’t obvious, in the EPA’s 46-year history, we’ve never seen anything like this.