WASHINGTON (AP) — The Interior Department has negotiated a significantly lower price for a $139,000 project to upgrade double doors in his office, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Thursday.
Zinke told a House committee that “we got it down to $75,000” by “manipulating” contract terms for the project, which would upgrade three sets of double doors in Zinke’s corner office overlooking the Washington Monument.
Zinke did not elaborate on how the cost would be reduced.
A spokeswoman said later that Zinke “has directed that the contract be modified to change the scope of the project for a substantial cost savings.” Officials are still negotiating down the cost and don’t yet have a final contract, spokeswoman Heather Swift said.
Zinke came under fire last week after The Associated Press reported that Interior is spending nearly $139,000 to upgrade the double doors in his sixth-floor office.
Zinke wasn’t aware of the contract until AP asked about it, Swift said.
In a statement, the Interior Department’s s Office of Facilities and Administrative Services called the cost “reasonable,” noting that the project includes the installation of two sets of custom-built double doors and door frames, as well as demolition of existing doorways. The contract also covers repairs to another set of double doors that lead from a hallway to the secretary’s office.
“The cost is reasonable when taking into account there are two sets of double doors, the doors must be custom built, they must meet historic building requirements, includes both sets of door frames, demo of the current structure and installation,” the statement said.
Zinke said regulations regarding the 82-year-old, historic building near the National Mall significantly increase the cost of the renovations.
“The rules have good intent, but when you’re bound by a law that doesn’t make sense, this is when working together can be helpful,” he told the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday.
Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the panel’s senior Democrat, said “the public deserves a detailed accounting of these questionable expenses,” particularly since Zinke is proposing significant budget cuts across the department.
The door upgrade “understandably reminds the public of the $31,000 dining set that was recently ordered for another cabinet secretary’s office,” Grijalva said, referring to a since-cancelled furniture order by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., clashed with Zinke at a hearing Tuesday on the agency’s budget.
“While my constituents are hearing about private jet rides and expensive doors, they want to understand why someone is proposing to raise park fees at this level,” she told Zinke.
“I resent the fact of your insults. I resent the fact they’re misleading. I resent the fact of the doors,” Zinke shot back. All three flights he has taken on private planes as secretary were on aircraft driven by propellers, not jet engines, he said.
The Interior Department said the door-upgrade includes replacement of two sets of double doors that open onto a corner balcony with a spectacular view of the Washington Monument and the National Mall. The current balcony doors leak “like a sieve” whenever it rains, forcing workers to mop the wooden floor in Zinke’s office, the agency said.
The doors have been so damaged by exposure to weather that at one point, the bottom panels were replaced with cardboard and duct tape. The new balcony doors will be made of fiberglass specially made by a Maryland company and include glass transoms above the doors and fiberglass door frames.
Zinke is among several Trump Cabinet officials recently under scrutiny for their spending. He spent $53,000 on three helicopter trips last year, including one that allowed him to go on a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence.
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