E&C Dems Call for Investigation into Pruitt’s ‘Privacy Booth’
Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO), and Environment Subcommittee Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) today wrote to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) requesting an investigation into the alleged waste, fraud, and abuse related to the installation of a “privacy booth” in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office.
The letter comes after a report that EPA “is spending nearly $25,000 to construct a secure, soundproof communications booth in the office of Administrator Scott Pruitt, according to government contracting records.” EPA has described the equipment as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) and reportedly customized the private communications booth, which cost several times more than a typical model. However, EPA headquarters reportedly already has a SCIF on another floor of the building.
“The installation of a dedicated communications booth in the Administrator’s office raises questions regarding why such equipment is needed and what types of conversations Administrator Pruitt is having that would warrant a private soundproof booth,” the lawmakers wrote to the EPA OIG. “If misused, and this facility is in fact a private communications booth, then this action would represent the latest action in a troubling pattern of secrecy and distrust at the EPA under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.
“Americans deserve an EPA Administrator who devotes Agency resources to protecting human health and the environment, and they have a right to know if Administrator Pruitt is wasting taxpayer money on duplicative and unnecessary purchases for his office.”
The installation of the privacy booth comes after a troubling report earlier in the summer that EPA instituted extreme restrictions at its headquarters, including prohibiting employees from carrying cell phones and taking notes in meetings with Administrator Pruitt, restricting movement within the building, and requiring escorts.
The Democrats are requesting the Inspector General to review whether EPA’s applicable policies and procedures are now sufficiently designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse, and whether the purchase of a soundproof communications booth for Administrator Pruitt’s office was in compliance with all applicable policies and procedures. As part of the Inspector General’s review, the members are requesting a determination on a series of matters, including:
- The justification for the privacy booth;
- The policies and procedures in place to ensure proper use, i.e. for official communication only, of the facility;
- Which EPA officials reviewed and approved the purchase of the facility;
- The total cost of installations, modifications, facilities, and equipment installed and/or purchased for Administrator Pruitt’s office since January 2017 to present; and,
- Whether EPA policies and procedures are sufficiently designed to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in purchases by the Office of the Administrator, including purchases made by and for Administrator Pruitt and his immediate staff and how EPA can strengthen its policies, procedures, and oversight controls on such purchases.
Full text of the letter can be found here.