security

FILE - In this June 2, 2017, file photo, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency are attending mandatory training sessions this week to reinforce federal laws and rules against leaking government information. Training materials from the hour-long class were obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) ORG XMIT: WX102
FILE - In this June 2, 2017, file photo, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks to the media in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington. Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency are attending mandatory training sessions this week to reinforce federal laws and rules against leaking government information. Training materials from the hour-long class were obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File) ORG XMIT: WX102Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Washington

The Environmental Protection Agency is spending nearly $25,000 to provide Administrator Scott Pruitt a custom soundproof booth for making private phone calls.

EPA did not respond to questions on Wednesday about the government contract for the "privacy booth for the administrator" ordered last month, according to a summary of the contract listed in a federal procurement database. The contract for the booth, due for delivery by Oct. 9, was first reported by The Washington Post.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the newspaper that the booth would serve as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, which are secure rooms used to house computers and equipment for communicating over classified government networks.

"Federal agencies need to have one of these so that secured communications, not subject to hacking from the outside, can be held," Bowman said.

But former EPA officials said that explanation doesn't make much sense.

There is already a SCIF at EPA headquarters in Washington where officials with appropriate levels of security clearance can go to access classified information. EPA employees rarely deal with government secrets. The agency does occasionally receive, handle and store classified material because of its homeland security, emergency response and continuity missions.

Stan Meiburg, who served as EPA's acting deputy administrator until earlier this year, said he only ever needed to enter a SCIF a handful of occasions each year.

"It's a head scratcher, for sure," Meilburg said of Pruitt's cone of silence. "I'm having trouble figuring out what could be the possible business case for this."