Published: Tue, April 17, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Federal Watchdog Says Scott Pruitt's $43000 Phone Booth Violated the Law

Federal Watchdog Says Scott Pruitt's $43000 Phone Booth Violated the Law

An internal government watchdog says the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal spending laws when purchasing a $43,000 soundproof privacy booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt to make private phone calls in his office. EPA did not send any advance notice to the appropriations committees in either chamber, the Government Accountability Office found, thereby violating the 2017 law. The booth's cost far exceeded the $5,000 legal limit for how much a presidential appointee can spend "to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements" to his or her office.

The expenditure violated the Antideficiency Act because it "obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law", the GAO said in a report made public Monday.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency was "addressing GAO's concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week". Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency. The South Carolina Republican also demanded a long list of documents from EPA about Pruitt's travel spending and unprecedented security precautions.

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 lawmakers requested documents from Pruitt that would confirm these allegations. In Minoli's letter, EPA told GAO that the booth "not only enables the Administrator to make and receive phone calls to discuss sensitive information, but it also enables him to use this area to make and receive classified telephone calls (up to the top secret level) for the objective of conducting agency business". The lawmaker cited "new information" his committee had obtained regarding Pruitt's official travel and his housing rental agreement past year with the wife of an energy lobbyist.

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Gowdy added that he would be "shocked" if many members of the general public even knew who Pruitt was, but that, as a government official, Pruitt should be prepared to take criticism from the public.

The agency concluded that the EPA should report the violations, which would require a report to the President and Congress, according to federal law.

The auditors said EPA clearly spent in excess of $5,000 and the space in question was certainly a part of Pruitt's office.

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