March 19, 2018
Secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office may have cost taxpayers $43,000, violated law
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, urged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to comply with an inquiry from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which is looking into the legality of a “privacy booth” built with taxpayer funds in Pruitt’s office. Udall in November asked the GAO – an independent investigative agency created by Congress – for a legal opinion about whether the construction of the secure phone booth was a violation of federal law. The GAO sent its first request of several to the EPA on Dec. 21, 2017, but the EPA has yet to respond.
Under section 710 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017, the administration can’t spend more than $5,000 to furnish, redecorate, or make improvements to the office of a presidential appointee without first notifying the House and Senate Appropriations committees. Press reports have indicated that the booth may have cost over $43,000, but neither committee received notice from the EPA.
“I am concerned that the agency may be misleading the committee and the public about the function of the privacy booth while also inappropriately classifying the expense as related to national security in order to avoid proper notification under section 710,” Udall wrote to Pruitt. “The American people deserve an open and transparent budget process. Given your role as a public servant and trustee of taxpayer funds, it is your fundamental responsibility to fully cooperate with GAO. I urge you to immediately respond to GAO’s requests so that GAO may complete their legal review as soon as possible.”
Udall has also asked for an explanation of why Pruitt needs a secure phone booth in his office, especially given that the EPA already has a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) and the fact that there is limited need for secure communication at the agency.