GAO: Cost Of EPA Chief's Phone Booth Broke The Law

GAO: Cost Of EPA Chief's Phone Booth Broke The Law

A federal watchdog on Monday said the Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it spent more than $43,000 on a new soundproof phone booth for its chief, Scott Pruitt.

The GAO report says Pruitt violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which prohibits an agency from paying more than $5,000 to redecorate or furnish a presidential appointee's office without congressional approval, The Washington Post reported.

"EPA was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation", the legal opinion stated.

"Because EPA obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law, we conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act", the GAO said in its report.

The E.P.A. said the secure phone booth was necessary "to make and receive phone calls and to discuss sensitive information, including classified telephone calls up to the top secret level". "EPA should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law".

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The report comes amid slowly intensifying Republican criticism of the EPA over its growing list of spending scandals.

"According to the analysis, agency officials must notify Congress before "obligating or expending an amount in excess of $5,000" on office improvements".

"We draw no conclusions regarding whether the installation of the privacy booth was the only, or the best, way for EPA to provide a secure telephone line for the Administrator", Armstrong wrote. "Scott Pruitt is behaving like swamp emperor rather than EPA administrator - he has shown a shocking lack of regard for public health and safety, ethics and fairness".

The phone booth itself cost more than $24,000, and was installed in a storage closet inside Pruitt's office, the missive notes. But based on the details in the report, two of them appear to be Pruitt's scheduling director Millan Hupp and senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt, and the EPA declined to identify the third one. "EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law". Also looking into Pruitt is the House Oversight Committee, which has asked EPA for records on his travel and housing. "The notion that I've got to fly first class because I don't want people to be mean to me-you need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you. Like maybe a monk", he continued. In a letter to GAO, EPA argued the booth was not furnishing the office but merely equipment necessary for Pruitt to do his job.

"These are operated by EPA sub-organizations and are located three floors away from the Administrator's office", the comptroller said in a footnote.

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