‘Seriously, What Is A Biometric Lock’: How Pruitt Dealt With Tough Questions

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Environment Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 26, 2018 in Washington, DC. The focus of nearly a dozen federal inquiries into his travel expenses, security practices and other issues, Pruitt testified about his agency's FY2019 budget proposal.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images North America

Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) had a simple question toward the end of a congressional hearing with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday: Why did he need two biometric locks, which together cost nearly $6,000, for his office?

Pruitt’s response was illustrative of the strategy he used for most of the hearing when pressed on things like the $43,000 soundproof booth in his office, five-figure raises awarded to several of his senior aides at the EPA and a slew of other wasteful spending scandals: Shift blame and run out the clock.

“Let me ask you this,” Welch began. “Did you have installed, or were there installed, biometric locks on your office?”

“There were problems with locks on two of the three doors, and changes were made to those locks,” Pruitt responded. “No instruction was given for biometric locks, but that was a decision made by those individuals.”

“So these things just happen?” Welch asked. Earlier he’d wondered if Pruitt had a plaque on his desk that read “The Buck Stops Nowhere.”

“There was a process at the agency in that regard,” Pruitt said. “And there was an evaluation.”

“Well, what’s a biometric lock?” a frustrated Welch asked.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Pruitt said, chuckling slightly.

“Is it the case you don’t know how to open your door?” Welch asked, as Pruitt started to answer. “No, seriously, what is a biometric lock?”

“I don’t know, I just put a code in,” Pruitt said.

Welch tried to answer for him.

“A biometric lock, it responds, as I understand it, to fingerprints or some other — your eyes, some physical characteristic,” he said.

“That’s my understanding as well,” Pruitt said.

“Alright, so you have them, right?” Welch asked.

“Those have been added to the office, yes,” Pruitt said, finally answering the question after a minute of Welch pressing him on it.

“Why?” Welch asked.

But it was too late.

“Gentleman’s time is expired,” Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment said, five minutes having passed.

Watch the exchange below:

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