Five Democrats wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) Monday arguing that two well-publicized purchases by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — a $43,000 phone booth in his office and a $3,000 sweep of the same office for surveillance devices — were useless and improper.
Though the EPA has argued that Pruitt’s phone booth, the purchase of which was recently deemed illegal by the Government Accountability Office, “enables him to use this area to make and receive classified telephone calls (up to the top secret level) for the purpose of conducting agency business,” the Democrats said it might not be able to serve even that purpose.
“Documents provided to us from within EPA indicate that as of March 2017, the Administrator’s office was not cleared for classified communications,” they wrote. “The phone booth, which was installed months later, appears to be a ‘privacy booth’ installed by a vendor that describes itself as a ‘manufacturer and distributor of acoustical products’ whose mission is ‘to solve sound and noise control problems to improve every environment of your life.’”
“Even if the phone booth itself is authorized to receive top secret communications, that would mean classified information is being received in an otherwise not-secured location, preventing the Administrator from discussing it with any other cleared person,” the Democrats, Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Gerry Connolly (D-VA) and Don Beyer (D-VA), said.
Separately, the letter discussed the $3,000 sweep for surveillance devices in Pruitt’s office conducted last year by a business partner of Pruitt’s security chief, Nino Perrotta.
The five Democrats said that they had been “informed that this contract [for the security sweep] may have been paid for through the use of an EPA credit card without first obtaining the required pre-approval.”
The sweep came after the EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management wrote in an email, cited in the letter, that such sweeps are subject to a number of National Security Council regulations.
“Please wait on any further movement on this thanks!” Perrotta responded to that office’s email, according to the letter. “The front office will advise shortly.”
And after the sweep, the EPA’s Office of Homeland Security concluded that it “did not employ the equipment, proper certification, or necessary processes to be approved by the [United States Government] for certifying a USG facility or space for classified information systems or classified discussion.”
For what it’s worth, the lawmakers cited the resulting security sweep report itself, which found that “no covert surveillance devices were present” in Pruitt’s office.
The lawmakers, as others have in recent weeks, called on Gowdy to hold hearings and request more documents related to the EPA’s security expenditures and “the role Mr. Perrotta played selecting Mr. Steinmetz for a security sweep, particularly after being advised by EPA officials that such sweeps are governed by National Security Council Regulations.”