Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt is set to have a soundproof phone booth valued at nearly $25,000 built for him. The agency reportedly entered into a contract last month to construct a “privacy booth for the administrator” with Acoustical Solutions. The company specializes in sound-proofing technology designed to hearing tests. The one the EPA requires is an original, customized version of its equipment.
“They had a lot of modifications,” said Steve Snider, an acoustic sales consultant who worked on the order. “Their main goal was they wanted essentially a secure phone booth that couldn’t be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping.”
Acoustical Solutions has contracted with various government institutions since its inception, including building soundproof wall barriers at the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board and installing sound-damping wall and ceiling panels at several federal agencies. The Treasury Department recently asked the company to construct a “sound enclosure” at Denver’s U.S. Mint.
Of the EPA’s request, Snider said, “This is a first. They are definitely using this booth in a way that wasn’t necessarily intended. … [But] for the criteria they had, it fit this product.”
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the booth was necessary for the Administrator to conduct business. It offers “a secured communication area in the administrator’s office so secured calls can be received and made.” She added, “Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held. It’s called a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). This is something which a number, if not all, Cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated.”
There is one other SCIF already available on another floor of building. It is unclear exactly why the Administrator is requiring another one, whether it’s outdated or simply inconvenient. Pruitt has recently received flack for being too secretive, prohibiting his employees from bringing their phones into meetings and avoiding emails and other written communication altogether. He also has security on the clock 24/7, including eighteen police officers.
Bowman says of the EPA’s new cell phone rumors, “If anyone was asked not to bring [phones], it was merely a professional courtesy — it is by no means a policy or directive.”
Pruitt’s decision to engage only in face-to-face meetings was partially in response to public disclosure of his emails by the New York Times in 2014. The publication demonstrated how Pruitt and other attorneys general had worked with the oil and gas industry to oppose Obama administration environmental safeguards. Thousands of pages of additional email from his time as Oklahoma’s attorney general were later released, which proved Pruitt offices was in cahoots with Devon Energy, a major oil and gas company headquartered in Oklahoma City.
Pruitt’s history has left some wondering what he has to hide and whether the phone booth is a justified use of the agency’s funds. In any case, it’s set to be up and running by early October.