Tuesday, 18 September, 2018

EPA broke spending law on Pruitt phone booth: government watchdog

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Melinda Barton | 17 April, 2018, 03:48

Scott Pruitt ran afoul of a 2017 appropriations law and the Antideficiencies Act when creating the fixture, the Government Accountability Office said on Monday in a legal opinion.

"W$3 e conclude that EPA violated section 710 when it obligated $43,238.68 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without providing advance notice to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate", the GAO wrote.

House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy on Friday sent a letter requesting more information from Pruitt, accused of excessive spending on travel, vehicles, staff raises and over-the-top security features such as a $43,000 soundproof phone booth. Thus, the booth was a practical addition to the administrator's office and did not violate the specific appropriations law provision since it was not "an aesthetic improvement" contemplated by that measure, according to the agency. The South Carolina Republican also demanded a long list of documents from EPA about Pruitt's travel spending and unprecedented security precautions.

"These are operated by EPA sub-organizations and are located three floors away from the Administrator's office", the comptroller said in a footnote. Also being sought is information about the lease for a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium that Pruitt rented a year ago. Last week, Democratic lawmakers asked him to provide documents about ethics issues they said were revealed to them by a former agency official, including spending on bulletproof vests, guns and a contract with an Italian security service. Tom Udall, a Democrat from New Mexico, in a statement.

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. Donald Trump shouldn't wait to see what ethical norm or law Pruitt breaks next.

Republicans also expressed concerns in response to the GAO ruling released today.

Chmielewski, who was reportedly fired from his post over his objections to some of his boss's requests, said that Pruitt made frequent trips back to Oklahoma, where he owns a home and would spend weekends, using taxpayer funds.

"Because EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time EPA incurred the obligation", the GAO found. "EPA should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law".