Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt used his custom $43,000 phone booth to call the White House once during his tenure, The Washington Post reported Monday.
Pruitt and his aides had argued for months that the booth ― a secure, soundproof box built inside a renovated closet in his office ― was “necessary” for him to stay in contact with President Donald Trump. The booth became a lightning rod for controversy after the Post reported its exorbitant price and noted that the EPA already had a similar facility, just on a different floor from Pruitt’s office.
“Cabinet-level officials need to have access to secure communications,” Pruitt argued during congressional testimony in December. “It’s necessary for me to be able to do my job.”
The lone call that Pruitt made to the White House lasted just five minutes, according to records released as part of a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club. It’s unclear how many incoming calls Pruitt might have received in the booth, but he admitted during congressional testimony this April that his use of the facility was “rare.”
Pruitt resigned as EPA administrator in July amid a whirlwind of ethical scandals and at least 18 federal investigations into his leadership. The Government Accountability Office concluded in April that the installation of the booth broke the law as it exceeded a $5,000 limit on office redecoration for agency heads. Anything more than that required congressional notification.
Two Democratic lawmakers proposed legislation late last month aiming to hold Pruitt accountable for his ethical lapses. Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced the Ensuring Pruitt is Accountable Act ― the EPA Act ― to compel the agency’s inspector general to continue its investigations into the former chief and to temporarily suspend any proposed rulemaking signed by Pruitt until they are complete.
“His actions cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged, and at the very least, these destructive moves must be put on hold until the numerous investigations into Pruitt’s activities have concluded,” Merkley said last month. “It’s time to restore an EPA that actually acts to protect our clean air and clean water rather than protecting the profits of powerful polluters.”