EPA Violated Multiple Laws in Securing Scott Pruitt's Privacy Booth, GAO Finds

Trey Gowdy Scott Pruitt should fly like a ‘monk’ instead of first class

Because the EPA did not report its spending on the booth to Congress, GAO also found that the EPA violated the Antideficiency Act, which forbids an agency from spending beyond legally available amounts.

Though Congressional notification was the only subject of the brief, GAO also remarked that EPA already has two Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs)-installations through which classified information can be shared.

EPA spent about $25,000 on the privacy booth and an additional $18,000 on costs associated with modifying a storage closet connected to Pruitt's office to accommodate it.

The EPA had argued that the nearly $25,000 customized phone booth - which required painting, concrete and electrical work totaling more than $18,000 to reconfigure the small closet area where it was placed - was not part of a redecoration of Pruitt's office and should not be subject to the $5,000 cap.

Pruitt has taken several security precautions that are now under scrutiny, including his frequent use of first-class flights to avoid hostile interactions with other travelers.

He spent almost $6,000 buying specialized locks requiring fingerprints to open a door, the Associated Press reported previous year. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA.

"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said Monday.

"Scott Pruitt likes to talk about returning the EPA to the rule of law, but it turns out he's better at breaking it than following it". The probe into the spending was originally being handled by EPA's inspector general, but the watchdog subsequently passed it on to GAO. "Accordingly, section 710 [of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act] applied to this obligation and EPA was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation", Thomas Armstong, the GAO's General Counsel wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers on Monday. In a letter to GAO, EPA argued the booth was not furnishing the office but merely equipment necessary for Pruitt to do his job.

In authorizing the raises, the EPA effectively overruled White House officials who had objected to at least two of the salary increases.

The GAO conclusion that the size of the expenditure for the soundproof booth was illegal is the latest Washington brouhaha over Pruitt's spending practices. However, Chief of employees Ryan Jackson signed the kinds approving the raises.

The cost of the soundproof phone booth came to $43,238.68.

The IG said that Monday's report was meant to "provide certain factual information" but "does not present any conclusions or recommendations".

Pruitt's alleged high-spending ways have prompted lawmakers to call on the GAO to look into transactions like the phone booth.

EPA officials said that almost all of the raises came after these aides had taken on additional responsibilities or had been promoted. "There will be some accountability".

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