Scott Pruitt

Government Watchdog Says Pruitt's $43,000 Phone Booth Broke the Law

Pruitt's recurring waste of taxpayer money undermines his laudable regulatory reforms.


Photo by Eric Boehm

A soundproof phone booth built for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt cost more than $43,000 and circumvented federal rules for office renovations, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In an eight-page letter to congressional Democrats, who had requested a review of Pruitt's phone booth project after reports of it surfaced in the press, GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong wrote that the EPA violated two federal laws by failing to notify Congress before spending the money and by using those funds in a manner prohibited by law. The second violation is a function of the first—because the agency did not notify Congress, the funds used to build the phone booth were not legally "available" when the EPA used them.

The bigger question might be why Pruitt needed a phone booth that costs as much as a brand new BMW.

For comparison sake, there is a soundproof booth at the Reason office, used not for the transmission of confidential government secrets but for more mundane things, like recording podcasts and conducting interviews. Something like that costs about $5,000 to build.

That amount, incidentally, is exactly how much federal agencies like the EPA are allowed to spend "to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee" without notifying Congress. Spending above that threshold requires notifying Congress' two appropriations committees.

In a response to the GAO, Pruitt's office maintains that those rules do not apply to the construction of the phone booth because "the purpose of the $5,000 redecorating limitation is to ensure that Congress is aware of any funds (above $5,000) that are being spent for items to accommodate the individual preferences of the appointee, rather than for items to conduct official agency business."

This, the GAO concludes, is "inconsistent" with the rules. But the real kicker is that there's nothing in the law forbidding the use of $43,000 to build, say, a sound-proof phone booth. All Pruitt had to do was notify the appropriations committees!

As with so many things, it's the attempted cover-up that makes this a bigger story than it otherwise would have been—well, that, and the ongoing drip, drip of stories involving Pruitt's housing situation, his use of four official email addresses, his pay raises to certain EPA officials without permission from the White House, and his habit of flying first class on the taxpayers' dime (supposedly in the name of security) while other high-ranking government officials get by just fine in coach.

Government officials are not angels and we should expect them to fail at times, but this is getting ridiculous.

To the extent that it's possible to separate Pruitt's wasteful managerial decisions from his policy agenda, it's wise to do so. Earlier this month, for example, Pruitt announced plans to roll-back Obama-era rules for vehicle emissions, removing a mandate that cars and pick-up trucks sold in the United States must average at least 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Those emissions standards made cars more expensive—effectively imposing a regressive tax that is particularly hard on low-income Americans—as well as lighter, and therefore potentially less safe. Car companies should make more fuel-efficient vehicles because consumers are demanding them, not because government is forcing them to do so.

Pruitt also loosened regulations on coal-fired power plants, let mining companies do more digging with less red tape, and placed some limits on the EPA's overaggressive enforcement of water regulations. Those moves will reduce electricity prices, create jobs in rural areas that badly need them, and better respect property rights.

But the price of those policy achievements should not be a complete disregard for how a federal agency spends money or the public's right to know about the workings of that agency. Those policies could be pursued by another person, someone committed to both a reasonably limited understanding of the EPA's mandate and a humble view his or her role in the government.

A phone booth that costs as much as a luxury sedan isn't a sign of humility. Neither is sticking taxpayers with first-class flight tabs. If Pruitt can't apply the same scrutiny to his personal expenses that he has applied to the EPA's overall mission, he should be replaced with someone who can.

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  1. “The bigger question might be why Pruitt needed a phone booth that costs as much as a brand new BMW.”

    Because like the BMW, his phone booth is a sweet ride.

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    2. The bigger question might be why Pruitt needed a phone booth that costs as much as a brand new BMW.

      Brand-new BMW for $43k? That’s gotta be one sad-sack new BMW.

      1. Start making extra cash from home and get paid weekly… By completing freelance jobs you get online… I do this three hr every day, for five days weekly and I earn in this way an extra $2500 each week…

        Go this web and start your work.. Good luck……

  2. For comparison sake, there is a soundproof booth at the Reason office, used not for the transmission of confidential government secrets, but for more mundane things like recording podcasts and conducting interviews

    Reason isn’t even pretending to be Libertarian any more.

  3. I guarantee that Reason’s soundproof booth, while adequate for Reason’s purposes, is not secure enough to take a classified phone call in.

    Which isn’t to say I have any clue what such a booth would cost, but that Reason’s booth, and Pruitt’s booth, are not comparable.

    1. Here comes EscherEnigma: Trump Apologist.

      1. Sometimes, yeah. I don’t like the man, either as an individual or as my President, but he’s not the vaudeville misery-maker that many folks hyperbolically make him out to be.

        He is a bad President. But not the worst (Buchanan set the bar pretty high for that).

        If that makes me an “apologist” then oh well.

    2. I’d go along with that, but I am at a loss as to why EPA officials would be regularly be in on classified calls.

      1. Two words: phone sex.

      2. To play Devil’s Advocate for Pruitt, he isn’t trying to hide his phone calls from Trump’s Russian handlers, he’s trying to hide his phone calls (along with rest his comms) from EPA staff. The four email addresses might be artifact of same strategy.

        The guy is running an institution used to zero supervision via either benign neglect or empowering lefty stupidity; an institution diametrically opposed to him and stocked at numerous levels with people he’s never met yet whom actively want to make him and his ambitions fail. At some level there is xenophobia at work with that phone booth.

      3. The decisions he makes can effect billions, probably hundreds of billions of dollars and have enormous political consequences and he doesn’t have an especially loyal staff. It’s pretty reasonable that he’d need to keep discussions secret and since it’s government they probably need a higher standard for the soundproofing and also overplayed.

        The only issue is that he should have informed Congress as required, but getting the booth is reasonable.

        And it would be ridiculous for a cabinet level employee not to fly first class. If there’s some rule he broke there fine, obey the rules, but it hardly seems like a waste of money.

        1. Eh, not sure about the booth being reasonable. You need a place to take such calls and meetings, but it doesn’t need to be in your own office. Dude can take a short walk down the hall.

        2. 1 – you are confusing classified info with private info. The fact that the EPA administrator never before needed a SCIF kinda proves that this was not actually for handling genuine classified info.

          2 – as the article notes, luxury air travel is not the usual way for government employees (even senior ones) to get around. You can be sure that if an Obama cabinet official had done this, we would not have heard the end of it from Fox News, the GOP etc. To be fair to Pruitt, he may not be aware that there are cabin classes other than First.

  4. If our top spy agencies can’t even have a cone of silence, why have the agencies in the first place?

    1. I prefer silence 20 ft radius.

    2. a cone of silence

      No one gets this reference, grandpa.

      1. You and I can head down to the senior center together, get some tapioca and discuss my references… WHICH YOU CLEARLY GET, POPS JUGGLER!

        Pick me up in the Crown Vic.

        1. Forget the senior center-take me to the submarine races.

          1. Don’t trust him Paul. Last time I heard about someone getting in a submarine they got their ass murdered.

      2. Sad to say, I got it .

      3. +1 Missed it by that much!

    3. Not even close. Even with inflation the cones of silence only cost $12,000 and that’s for the whole set, not each.

    4. I can get that but another $16k for a shoe phone is a bit much.

      1. Omg how many geriatric commenters are there?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

        1. You admitted to being older than me. So, in my mind you’re not to be trusted.

            1. And how long have you been 29?

              1. That was a typo – I’m 19, Ben Matlock.

        2. Old enough to have once had a crush on Agent 99.

    5. Funny, I didn’t get the reference, but I thought it had to be from Get Smart.

        1. It’s from Sanford and Son, stupid.

          1. It is obviously from Leave It To Beaver….

            1. Dirtiest line in network TV history was “Gee Ward, you sure were rough on the beaver last night.”

      1. That’s why you’re a communist authoritarian apologist.

      2. Because the classics never die. Or maybe they do.

        What the hell do I care. I saw all the great bands.

        1. Both of them?

    6. You have to be old to get a Family Guy reference?

  5. A phone booth?
    Does the Doctor know?

    1. If Superman doesn’t mind, the Doctor won’t.

  6. The travel thing being about security is nonsense, he’s just being a special snowflake:

    “He said it was necessary, according to Associated Press correspondent David Eggert, because he’s had “unpleasant interactions with other travelers.””

    If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Rubbing elbows with commoners is supposed to be one of the regulation-free ways to keep the upper crust in line.

    1. I would be fine if he wants to fly charter or fly on military aircraft – as long as he reimburses the government for the difference between that and the price of a coach ticket.

      1. He can fly Space A – then they can reimburse *him* for the difference.

    2. When pressed, the fucker actually cited mean tweets as a reason to fly first class. He really is just a special snowflake. Unfortunately, when his boss is the pigfucker we’ve got, there’s really no end to the blank checks he’ll write himself. The only practical limitation here is his future political aspirations.

    3. Except in this case, the commoners he has to worry about are demanding that the upper crust issue more regulation.

      Also curious as to the source of that quote — are those Pruitt’s exact words, or Eggert’s restatement of Pruitt’s words?

      1. are demanding that the upper crust issue more regulation.

        And if he can’t either politely deflect having an argument or actually defend his policies to a mere civilian, he’s not qualified for his job.

        Googling just now brought up this, a lot more detail in the links- stuff like threatening to murder, you know, the standard woodchipper stuff.

  7. How often have we observed the celerity with which Trumptards respond to facts exposing the utter hypocrisy of their glorious emperor and / or his functionaries with the twin logical fallacies of tu quoque and relativism?

    1. BUT OBAMA!

      1. I like it. I just walk around shooting people and fucking fire hydrants and stuff, safe in the knowledge that someone worse than me is out there.

        1. fucking fire hydrants

          Pics and deets, pls

    2. I keep track of these things using Reasonable and the answer to your question is 895,431 fucking times


      Fuck, man. Team fucking Red

      1. I keep track of these things using Reasonable


        1. Reasonable is sadly broken and gone last I checked.

          1. My chance at enhanced browsing has slipped by. Is the source code still around?

            1. Yeah, you can find it still. It just used some repo I believe that has since lapsed out of existence. Search Reasonable on the Google Extensions and I think it pops up still.

              1. Hmm, ok, I’ll try it out. Thanks!

        2. i don’t really use it, but apparently there’s some piece of [Python-based?] code floating around that is supposed to enhance your commenting experience. I’d like to try it out, to be honest.

          1. It was a Chrome extension.

            The only one that I know of now that still works is Greasonable. Which is not quite as good as Reasonable was, but it pretty good.

            1. Ah, did you send an invite to the Steam Community or in some way use the code at github?

              1. No, I don’t know anything about a steam community. Someone came here and posted about it and I saw it:

                Here’s the link, you can just pop Greasonable into Google and it pops up.

    3. It’s only a fallacy if they are arguing that what Pruitt did is OK because Obama’s people were worse. (That is not to say that what Pruitt did is not OK — that has not been proven either.)

      It is absolutely not a fallacy if it’s used to argue that the MSM and Democrats (redundant) screeching about this don’t give a shit about the rule of law, or wasting taxpayer money, or any other laudable motivation — they just want to take down someone from the other team. And they’re going to keep screeching because if they do it long enough, low-info voters will think it’s a big deal. Of course, Reason is helping them here by acting as if “failing to report phone booth construction to Congress” is a big deal.

      1. Yes but the adversarial role of self interested parties is a feature, not a bug.

    4. I’ve never objected to any cabinet members flying first class; in fact, I was kind of assuming it was that or military jet under any administration. So, no relativism or “tu quoque”.

      However, I think we could have a great rule here: any cabinet member who reduces regulations in their department substantially can fly first class, the rest must fly economy class on a budget airline. How about that?

  8. But the price of those policy achievements should not be a complete disregard for how a federal agency spends money or the public’s right to know about the workings of that agency.

    And thank God we have the watchdogs of the press to keep the public informed of these shenanigans. However boring their job might have been the previous eight years, relentlessly digging through the details of Obama’s appointees for the slightest morsel of outrage and yet perpetually coming up empty, their patience and determination is rewarded a hundredfold with the bounty of juicy scandal pouring out of the Trump administration. Yep, the thousands of fruitless man-hours they spent diligently searching for something, anything, to report on wrong-doing within the Obama administration must have been so boring and demoralizing for our guardians of the public trust, but we see now why we need these paragons of virtue to keep us informed of the truth.

    1. Ding. 895,432 times, Mike.

    2. And, no, I’m not defending or excusing Pruitt’s shit, but I don’t think for a minute that there haven’t been plenty of other similar goings-on the press could have been reporting within the Obama administration – if they’d had the slightest interest in reporting on any such shit going on in the Obama administration.

      1. There were plenty of well-funded media outlets who could have led that charge. Why didn’t they? Where was FoxNews? Breitbart? What makes you so sure that you’re safe in the assumption that what the press is uncovering, with Trump, is actually normal, when part of your very complaint is that you have no way of knowing one way or the other?

        1. FoxNews and Breitbart did report on it and were dismissed as fake right wing propaganda.

          1. What, on the endemic corruption of the Obama administration? They most certainly did not.

            Did they do a lot of misleading reporting, counting on the fact that their viewers/readers would do little more than read a headline or chyron? Yep.

            1. Are you serious?

              I have the overwhelming feeling that I’m arguing with a child again.

              1. What was some of the endemic corruption in the Obama administration that these outlets reported on?

                No need for the dissertation. Just give me a sense of what it is you think you’re talking about.

        2. Didn’t the GOA throw l like an $800k party in 2012ish?
          At least with Carson and Pruitt Shenanigans we’re getting a really really nice table and a quiet safe space.

          Cut everything by 20% and drink the tears of the crying bureaucrats and cronies.

  9. Federalist: The reason everyone in the media is complaining about Pruitt is because he’s effective

    Has Pruitt been outspending prior EPA heads?

    Kimberley Strassel

    1/ Mr. Eisen, actually, no. Wrong on all counts.

    Pruitt travel/security costs for 2017: $160k

    Gina McCarthy travel/security costs for 2013-16: $630k

    Lisa Jackson travel/security costs for 2009-12: $332k

    2/ Pruitt in 2017:
    –G7 Summit in Italy: $84k
    –Morocco: 40k

    McCarthy in 2016
    –Ghana: 68k
    –Peru: 45k
    –Tokyo: 75k

    McCarthy in 2015
    –Paris: 41k
    –Dubai: 90k
    –Tokyo: 68k
    –Italy: 56k (a trip that, like Pruitt, involved a private tour of Vatican)

    3/ McCarthy in 2014
    –Vancouver: 62k (btw, it’s impressive to spend that much just getting to Canada)
    –Vietnam: 68k

    McCarthy in 2013
    –China: 55k

    Jackson in 2012

    –Israel: 65k

    Jackson in 2011
    –Rio De Janeiro: 60k
    –Montreal: 51k
    –China: 156k (wow).

    and more.

    1. To be fair, McCarthy’s and Jackson’s figures are for four years, so both are below Pruitt’s annual cost (though McCarthy’s is just barely lower).

      1. “”McCarthy’s and Jackson’s figures are for four years,””

        so? that makes the data more-generous to them, because their occasional-single-year expenses were in some cases higher.

        iow, its comparing his 1, extra-spendy-year to their 4, diluted ones.

        the point was that if you actually look at numbers, they’re unremarkable in context.

        1. This is a particularly egregious assault on arithmetic that’s made it into a meme. Pruitt’s one-year costs vs. other EPA heads multi-year costs? I thought you people were at least number geeks.

          1. Being number geeks, we can divide numbers by simple integers in our heads.

        2. Misleading comparison. First of all, they went to conferences that were related to the EPA mission., Do we have any idea the size of the party that went to the conference? Was it just Gina or a lot of EPA employees were in that group? Pruitt has been going to conferences that have little to do with the EPA’s mission and his position as head of the EPA.

          Was Gina in first class ?

    2. Whatever Sean Hannity. PS Get another lawyer, you dim bulb.

  10. For comparison sake, there is a soundproof booth at the Reason office, used not for the transmission of confidential government secrets but for more mundane things, like recording podcasts and conducting interviews.

    And making cocktail party plans. Or maybe you save money by using your cosmoglobalist echo chamber for that purpose.

    As with so many things, it’s the attempted cover-up that makes this a bigger story than it otherwise would have been

    Where is there a cover-up in this story? Are you suggesting that failing to notify Congress of something that they can’t say no to anyway is a cover-up?

    1. cosmoglobalist

      LABEL HIM!

    2. An EPA lawyer specifically looked into whether they needed to notify Congress about the expenditure. He concluded that they did not. Was that a colorable argument, or was it – like so much that Pruitt has demanded from his inferiors – tailor-made to justify a pre-determined outcome?

    3. If you’re required to notify and they can’t say no, then what reason is there to not notify?

      1. You’re lazy.

      2. You’re incompetent.

      3. You’re trying to cover something up.

  11. You shouldn’t overestimate Pruitt’s efficacy in rolling back regulations. While some of his efforts may well stick, it’s also clear that many of his efforts aren’t adequately supported by the evidence or process and will be turned back after they’re challenged in courts. His efforts to stack the science in favor of industry may well prove counter-productive, as well, as courts might be less inclined to defer to agency analyses so notably handicapped by a kind of institutional ignorance.

  12. My Buddy’s mom makes $77 hourly on the computer . She has been laid off for five months but last month her check was $18713 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this web-site


    1. Maybe this will help?

      And yeah, there’s a video in the review section. I’m not clicking it though.

  13. Just install the foam on the box the thing is shipped in.

  14. making cocktail party plans. Or maybe you save money by using your cosmoglobalist echo chamber for that purpose.

  15. This article would be less sensationalist if you said the phone booth was less expensive than my neighbor’s F150.

  16. Why would a $5k soundproof booth cost $43k? Because we’re talking about government. They pay $300 to buy a hammer and $30k to buy a coffeemaker. Or did everyone forget those stories? John Stossel used to feature them on TV news magazine shows when I was growing up.

    When you spend money stolen from others, you don’t care if you pay inflated prices.

    1. MiB explained this.

    2. Actually, the $30k coffee maker was perfectly understandable, once you realized it went in a military bomber, and was required to not spray boiling hot coffee all over during a loss of pressure accident while pulling negative gees. Because getting boiling coffee sprayed on you would be just piling on, if you were already pulling negative gees during a loss of pressure accident.

      The $300 hammer was less excusable.

  17. Bizarre, sensationalized article better suited for Salon.

    Are we really to care about a piddling expense for a secure area? Shouldnt the real concern be, why is it so bad at the EPA that such security is required? Do we doubt that there are environmental extremists at the epa who would happily record a gotcha moment to force pruitt out?

    And the ‘first class’ travel bs is also ridiculous as almost no executive in any large company in the US would fly coach. It just isnt done. And besides, first class domestic hardly even exists anymore, its only business class these days. It is not excessively more expensive, and most companies happily pay the extra, so their high level employees have more time for rest and work during travel. This is the norm.
    Public servants shouldnt live above their status on the tax payer dime, but neither should they live below their status. Its a false expectation. And it would be nice if folks like eric here would hold everyone to the same standards, instead of trotting stuff like this to bash anything trump. Its tiresome.

    1. End the EPA.

    2. And the ‘first class’ travel bs is also ridiculous as almost no executive in any large company in the US would fly coach. It just isnt done.

      The difference is that that executive is using his or the company’s money – and that’s between him and the shareholders. If they don’t care, then they don’t care.

      *I’m* footing Pruitt’s bill and I care. Fucker can fly economy. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, Trump can fly economy. None of these people create enough value to ‘deserve’ the added expense.

      1. if you want qulaity in government, you have to pay for it. No different than any other job.

        It is stupid to worry about this level of expense. Judge him on the performance. otherwise its just a childish whine

    3. instead of trotting stuff like this to bash anything trump. Its tiresome.

      You’re not a lurker, you just wandered in here because someone tweeted something from this article, didn’t you?

  18. Oh too funny. The Team Red tribalists just can’t help themselves in defending Scott Pruitt even when he does something clearly wrong by not notifying Congress of his excessive expenditure.

    Is it a huge deal? No.
    Are liberals harping on this because they really care about fiscal prudence? No.
    Do Democrats just want to scandalize Scott Pruitt by any means necessary? Yes.
    Does that mean what Scott Pruitt did was totally legit? No.

    Either you stand for doing the right thing, or you only stand for being against whatever the Other Tribes are in favor of.

    If you believe in the former, then you have to criticize Pruitt (and others) when they screw up, even while praising the good things he has done.

    But if you believe in the latter, and all you want to do is DESTROY THE LEFT (or whatever), then you don’t actually stand for anything.

  19. Defending Pruitt and mocking this article/issue does not require being a “team red tribalist”

    EPA has 14,000 employees and a budget of ~8 billion that Pruitt is responsible to administrate. No CEO in the country, with anywhere close to that level of people/budget/responsibility would travel coach. Nor would anyone blink an eye about a pitifully small business expense of 40k for something of even questionable purpose. It is absurd to nit pick over this level of stuff for someone doing that level of job.

    The reason the private sector wouldn’t give a flying crap is because someone at that level is expected to work 80 hrs a week, be on call 24/7, and give up a tremendous amount of private/family life to get the job done. Most people can’t cut it or wouldn’t do it.

    Judge him on his performance, not this meaningless, childish crap.
    And if Reason writers like Eric need to pick these types of nits, then it would be nice if it was done for all parties.

    1. Okay so imagine he has a (D) after his name and was appointed by Obama and wanted to regulate the crap out of coal plants. Go!

      1. Okay….imagining…..

        Yeh, i would criticize the idiot for regulating the hell out of anything, let alone coal plants. dont really care if he flew forst class to do it. Dont recall ever caring about prior D or R expenditures like that. Its childish.

  20. $ 130.00 Phone booth.
    $42,870.00 Environmental impact statement cost
    $43,000.00 Total

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  22. sebaiknya gubernur harus lebih mendekatkan diri kepada masyarakat sekitar

  23. Weird and over the top: a soundproof booth for phone calls is clearly not a renovation, but a security feature like metal detectors or encryption. Looks like Pruitt and the GAO both need to be told to shut up and stay in the truck. Nobody wants to look at a sound proof booth, as it’s ugly as hell. So on balance, it appears the GAO [like the EPA] is not immune from “swamp” affliction, and is likely the more dangerous of the two groups in this affair. Could it be there are so many people that really need firing in DC that Trump can’t do it, on account of there would be a real government shutdown [as opposed to the showboat congress postures over]?

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