This type of booth is typically used to conduct hearing tests, but the EPA wanted "a secure phone booth that couldn't be breached from a data point of view or from someone standing outside eavesdropping", Steve Snider, an acoustic sales consultant with the company building the booth, told The Washington Post. "This is something which a number, if not all, Cabinet offices have and EPA needs to have updated", she said.
Pruitt, who has become a polarizing and high-profile figure as he seeks to roll back Obama-era policies and shrink the EPA's footprint, has essentially tripled the personal security detail that served past administrators.
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In the past, the agency had a so-called Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on a different floor where anyone with the proper clearance could go when sharing classified information. He said the EPA had requested significant modifications that ultimately required them to have the booth custom-ordered through the manufacturer. The booth includes a secure computer and phone room, which blocks sound from passing inside out as well as outside in. He noted the booths usually cost $5,000 to $6,000 but that in Pruitt's booth, "you can't hear what's going on outside, but conversely people outside can't hear what's going on inside".
"It's the first time that I've seen it", he said.
Former EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia-Gannon, who represented Gina McCarthy during Obama's administration, told The New York Times that constructing a privacy booth was "bizarre" and unprecedented. "I can't imagine why this taxpayer expense would be necessary and why an extra-secure room is needed in his office other than to avoid staff and the Office of Homeland Security from documenting use of the room and the information that warrants protection".