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EPA broke spending law on Pruitt phone booth: government watchdog

17 April 2018

The Government Accountability Office said in a new report that it concluded the Environmental Protection Agency broke a spending law when paying for the installation of a soundproof phone booth for administrator Scott Pruitt.

The EPA was required to tell Congress before it purchased the phone booth, exceeding the $5,000 limit on decorating and furnishing Pruitt's office, but didn't.

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.

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House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said he's troubled by recent reports of EPA chief Scott Pruitt's unprecedented spending on his personal security and luxury travel. The only question, therefore, was whether the booth installation met the definition of using funds to "furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for or make improvements for" the administrator's office.

Without advance notice to lawmakers, EPA obligated $43,239 from its fiscal 2017 environmental programs and management account to install the soundproof privacy booth in Pruitt's office, according to the GAO decision. "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion", he writes. In prior interviews with Senate and House Democrats, Chmielewski said Pruitt routinely insisted on luxury travel and accommodations.

In a letter earlier last week, Gowdy said EPA has failed to hand over several documents related to Pruitt's travel spending that the committee requested in February.

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In addition, Gowdy requested interviews with five of Pruitt's aides: Perrotta; chief of staff Ryan Jackson; Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, longtime advisers for Pruitt who recently drew scrutiny after getting approved for large raises; and Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff for operations.

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.

Pruitt said he flies in first-class to avoid threatening people in coach, given the "very toxic" political environment.

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Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said in a statement that EPA must explain why it thought spending the money on the phone booth was legal.

EPA broke spending law on Pruitt phone booth: government watchdog