GAO: Scott Pruitt Illegally Built "Privacy Booth"

Cheriss May  Zuma

The Government Accountability Office declared Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law by spending more than $43,000 on a soundproof booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt's office.

The EPA was required to tell Congress before it purchased the phone booth, exceeding the $5,000 limit on decorating and furnishing Pruitt's office, but didn't.

"Section 710 prohibits an agency from obligating or expending an amount in excess of $5,000 to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee during the period of appointment without prior notification to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate", reads the report.

Pruitt told congressional investigators that the phone booth was needed to make secure calls to the White House and other federal agencies and is standing by the cost to install the booth.

In addition, Gowdy wrote that the EPA "has failed to produce all the documents" he requested in February related to Pruitt's frequent first- and business-class flights, which The Washington Post had reported about in detail days earlier. Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency.

On Wednesday, the Republican oversight chairman had written to push for more answers from Pruitt about his first-class travels, and to say the committee plans to evaluate the $50-a-night rental the EPA head had with a lobbyist.

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They also inquired about a lease for a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium that Pruitt rented in 2017.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, who requested the GAO review, said the finding was yet another example of the embattled EPA administrator flouting federal spending rules.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt's ethics problems keep piling up. Later, he also met with Republican staffers on Gowdy's committee, resulting in Friday's letter from the chairman.

Gowdy's letter was sent one day after lawmakers heard details from the EPA's former deputy chief of staff for operations, Kevin Chmielewski, who said those who questioned Pruitt's unethical behavior were retaliated against.

"Because EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time EPA incurred the obligation", the GAO found. "EPA should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law".

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