September 28, 2017

Udall Demands Answers from EPA’s Pruitt on $25K ‘Privacy Booth,’ Chartered Flights

Calls excessive spending of taxpayer dollars especially alarming in light of Pruitt’s massive proposed cuts to EPA budget overall

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget, demanded answers from EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about his potentially excessive spending of taxpayer money. Media reports indicate that the EPA is devoting $25,000 in taxpayer money to build a “privacy booth for the administrator,” despite EPA already having a fully functioning Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for use by the administrator. Udall asked Pruitt to respond to a series of specific questions about why the administrator needs the $25,000 “privacy booth,” if it will be built to proper national security standards, and what purpose it will serve, given the presence of the existing SCIF and the limited need for secure communication at EPA.

The EPA inspector general (IG) is examining Pruitt’s use of taxpayer money for personal travel, but Pruitt also has reportedly used government-owned and chartered planes for work travel, even when less costly commercial flights were available. Udall wrote that he is asking the EPA IG to expand its probe to include a comprehensive audit of EPA's compliance with all federal laws and regulations related to travel.

"During your tenure as EPA administrator, you have stated repeatedly that your goal is to return EPA to its 'core mission.' I strongly disagree that this goal can be achieved via your budget proposal to eliminate scores of longstanding environmental programs and massively cut programs supporting clean air, clean water, and enforcement against polluters,” Udall wrote. "However, I do think we can both agree that a fundamental part of any federal agency’s 'core mission' must be the proper and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I am troubled by recent reports about a number of ongoing expenditures” within the administrator’s office.

“Recent press reports indicate that the EPA has obligated $24,570 for a 'Privacy Booth for the Administrator.' An EPA spokesperson referred to the 'Privacy Booth' as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for use by the administrator. However, I understand that EPA already has a fully functioning SCIF and that there are only limited needs for EPA personnel to conduct secure communications,” Udall continued. "I am concerned that this purchase undermines the transparency the American people expect of our nation’s environmental regulator and that it was unnecessary and duplicative.”

Responding to reports of Pruitt’s government airplane travel, Udall wrote: "I am hearing from constituents who are deeply concerned by this potentially excessive spending, especially in light of your proposals to make deep cuts to EPA’s budget overall. I have requested that the EPA Inspector General also perform a comprehensive audit of EPA’s compliance with all federal laws and regulations related to travel. This will include an examination of actual expenditures as well as all internal controls and processes related to approval and disbursement of funds.”

The full text of Udall’s letter is available below and here.

Dear Administrator Pruitt:

During your tenure as EPA Administrator, you have stated repeatedly that your goal is to return EPA to its “core mission.” I strongly disagree that this goal can be achieved via your budget proposal to eliminate scores of longstanding environmental programs and massively cut programs supporting clean air, clean water, and enforcement against polluters. However, I do think we can both agree that a fundamental part of any federal agency’s “core mission” must be the proper and responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. That’s why I am troubled by recent reports about a number of ongoing expenditures within EPA’s Office of the Administrator. I am writing to request more information on these expenditures in my oversight role as Ranking Member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

First, recent press reports indicate that the EPA has obligated $24,570 for a “Privacy Booth for the Administrator.” An EPA spokesperson referred to the “Privacy Booth” as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) for use by the Administrator. However, I understand that EPA already has a fully functioning SCIF and that there are only limited needs for EPA personnel to conduct secure communications.

I am concerned that this purchase undermines the transparency the American people expect of our nation’s environmental regulator and that it was unnecessary and duplicative. I respectfully request that you provide the Subcommittee and the EPA Inspector General with the following information:

I respectfully request that you provide the Subcommittee and the EPA Inspector General with the following information:

• What purpose will the “Privacy Booth” serve that the existing SCIF does not?
• Will the “Privacy Booth” be built to federal national security standards? Will it be certified by a qualified national security agency, and if so, which one?
• Which appropriations account and program project area has been charged for the “Privacy Booth”?
• Under what specific authority was the funding obligated?
• What is the timeline for building and installing the “Privacy Booth”?
• A full account of all expenditures by the Office of the Administrator since January 20, 2017. This list must include expenditures from other EPA offices in support of the Office of the Administrator, including the source and amount of such spending.

Second, press reports based on official EPA documents indicate that you have been utilizing government-owned and chartered aircraft for your work travel when less costly commercial flights or other less costly options may have been available. The EPA Inspector General is also examining federally-funded expenditures on your personal travel to your home state of Oklahoma.

I am hearing from constituents who are deeply concerned by this potentially excessive spending, especially in light of your proposals to make deep cuts to EPA’s budget overall. I have requested that the EPA Inspector General also perform a comprehensive audit of EPA’s compliance with all federal laws and regulations related to travel. This will include an examination of actual expenditures as well as all internal controls and processes related to approval and disbursement of funds.

The American people deserve an open and transparent budget process and a responsible use of their tax dollars. I appreciate your prompt response to this request by no later than October 13, 2017.

Sincerely,