The Environmental Protection Agency violated government spending laws by installing a $43,000 secure "privacy booth" in the office of Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Government Accountability Office has concluded. Because EPA used its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, EPA violated the Antideficiency Act.
The EPA did not immediately respond to request for comment; the organization had said that the phone booth should not be included as part of office decorations, a claim the GAO rebutted in its report.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency is "addressing GAO's concern, with regard to congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week". 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.
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In an eight-page letter to lawmakers, Thomas H. Armstrong, the G.A.O.'s general counsel, said the agency did not send advance notice to Congress when it paid $43,238.68 from its Environmental Programs and Management budget to pay for the installation of the soundproof booth.
On Wednesday, the Republican oversight chairman had written to push for more answers from Pruitt about his first-class travels, and to say the committee plans to evaluate the $50-a-night rental the EPA head had with a lobbyist.
"The reason the Oversight Committee wants to know whether or not the EPA is a good steward of taxpayer money is because Congress created the EPA; we fund the EPA", Gowdy said in the Sunday morning interview.
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Pruitt's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, is also on the list to be interviewed, as are two young aides that the administrator brought with him from Oklahoma, where he previously served as attorney general.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said EPA needs to make "a full public accounting" of its spending on Pruitt's phone booth.
"The notion that I've got to fly first class because I don't want people to be mean to me, you need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you", he said, joking that Pruitt should become a monk in order to avoid interacting with anyone.
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Pruitt's predecessor, Gina McCarthy, flew coach, and was not accompanied by security during her personal trips.