The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to buy some fountain pens for Administrator Scott Pruitt, a purchase that would not usually raise any eyebrows if not for one small detail. Internal emails indicate that the pens, customized by a Washington-based jewelry store, costed the agency $1,560.
This meant taxpayers collectively shelled out $130 for each of Pruitt's new pens, and that was just part of the order sent out to Tiny Jewel Box, a store that claims to be the "premier destination for fine jewelry and watches" in D.C.
The details for this purchase order are in the emails that are part of the thousands of messages released this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act request by the Sierra Club, as triggered by a lawsuit filed by the group.
As obtained by The Washington Post, the account manager was discussing the payments for and delivery of a dozen silver fountain pens, each customized with the signature of EPA head Scott Pruitt as well as the seal of the agency.
Together with a set of pricey and personalized journals, the stationery order added up to $3,230, to be approved by a top agency aide under Pruitt, Millan Hupp. "The cost of the Qty. 12 Fountain Pens will be around $1,560.00," the store staff emailed Hupp in August of last year.
"All the other items total cost is around $1,670.00 which these items are in process. Please advise," the message added, to which Hupp replied with a "Yes, please order" the next day. EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox defended the purchase, saying that the pens were ordered to be handed out as gifts to VIPs.
"These purchases were made for the purpose of serving as gifts to the Administrator's foreign counterparts and dignitaries upon his meeting with them," Wilcox said in a statement, as quoted by The Hill.
"This adheres to the same protocol of former EPA Administrators and were purchased using funds budgeted for such a purpose," the spokesperson claimed. Pruitt has been faced with criticism for what is perceived to be a lavish and wasteful use of taxpayer money on things ranging from office upgrades and premium vehicles to first-class travel arrangements.
One office upgrade, in particular, caught the attention of the Government Accountability Office — a soundproof phone booth that eventually cost the agency $43,000. It started with a simple secure telephone line installation, one that would have cost no more than $13,500 according to Bloomberg.
Over time, the project became a privacy booth equipped with silenced ventilation and special soundproof paneling that will keep conversations from leaking out. According to EPA spokesman Wilcox, it was not something the agency head had asked for.
"Administrator Pruitt simply requested a secure phone line but never asked for a soundproof booth, nor did he have knowledge of its purchase," Wilcox said at the time.