GAO says EPA violated spending law on Pruitt's privacy booth


The Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when it installed a $43,000 soundproof phone booth for the administrator, Scott Pruitt, a congressional watchdog agency found.

-Michael Brune, Sierra ClubFederal law prohibits goverment agencies from dishing out more than $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 appropriations committees of Congress". The Government Accountability Office says any amount over $5,000 required notification of the Appropriations Committees in Congress.

"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.

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.

The auditors called on EPA to "report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law". 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. The watchdog is also working on a wider audit of the EPA's use of the Safe Drinking Water Act for personnel hiring.

In this case, EPA principal general counsel Kevin Minoli said, the privacy booth wasn't created to "enhance the value of existing office space or to make it better".

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Trey Gowdy on Sunday said embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt should go into another line of work if he "didn't want people to be mean" to him.

The soundproof booth cost $24,570 when it was ordered last August from Acoustical Solutions in Richmond, Virginia.

The investigation by Gowdy, the House Oversight Committee Chairman, has continued after reports surfaced that Pruitt had been renting a room in Washington, DC, for below market price from a family with ties to an energy lobbyist.

The EPA has used the law to hire people in policy, public relations, scientific and other roles across the agency. "Like maybe a monk, where you don't come in contact with anyone". "However, we recognize the requirement to protect classified material and the need for employees to have access to a secure telephone line when handling such information in the course of conducting official agency business".

"It's necessary for me to be able to do my job", he said.

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