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

Cheriss May  Zuma

In a legal opinion released Monday, the Government Accountability Office concluded that Pruitt's decision to spend $43,238 on a soundproof privacy booth for phone calls in his office violated federal law. Pruitt exceeded the allotment without notifying Congress, the GAO determined, thereby violating the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act and the anti-deficiency act.

Back in December, Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce Committee he needed the equipment to conduct secure conversations with White House officials.

"GAO recognizes the requirement to protect classified material and draws 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. That is, a classified phone can not simply be put on an office desk or in a conference room", the EPA told GAO in a March 23 letter that the agency released on Monday.

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. The EPA headquarters building already had a SCIF, according to former employees.

EPA argued Pruitt's phone booth "serves a functional purpose" by allowing the administrator to carry out agency business and compared it to other office supplies, like high-speed copiers or computers.

Gowdy on Friday sent a letter to Pruitt requesting more documents relating to his travel and his controversial housing situation.

The report was requested by the top Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (Thomas R. Carper of Delaware), the Senate Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee (Tom Udall of New Mexico), the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon) and the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee (Betty McCollum of Minnesota).

Republicans also criticized Pruitt after the latest round of ethical violations.

Pruitt is one of President Donald Trump's most controversial appointments and has done what he said he would when Trump named him to oversee the country's environmental regulations - dismantle numerous restrictive policies on the environmental practices of businesses imposed by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

The agency reports it spent over $24,000 for the booth itself and over $18,000 in "space reconfiguration costs", and explained it did not give prior notice to members of Congress because the booth "does not constitute an aesthetic improvement". "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion", he writes.

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