A federal investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s installation of a $43,000 private soundproof phone booth violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that blocks agencies from spending more than $5,000 to redecorate without notifying Congress, according to a report by the government watchdog agency.
The EPA “was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation,” the GAO wrote in the report.
“By failing to provide such advance notice, EPA violated section 710” of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.
According to the report noted, Pruitt spent $24,540 on the purchase, delivery, and assembly of the “privacy booth.” Nearly $3,500 was spent on concrete floor leveling, about $3,400 for the construction of a drop ceiling, $3,350 for wall painting, and $500 for removal of cable wiring. Roughly $8,000 was spent on the removal of closed circuit television equipment already installed in Pruitt’s office.
The GAO’s investigation did not determine whether Pruitt needed the soundproof booth for privacy.
“We draw 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 to the Administrator,” the letter stated.
Democratic lawmakers were quick to respond to the findings of the GAO report.
“Scott Pruitt likes to talk about returning the EPA to the rule of law, but it turns out he’s better at breaking it than following it,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, said in a statement Monday.
“This is just one more example of how Scott Pruitt is blatantly breaking laws and ethics rules that protect taxpayers from government waste, fraud and abuse in order to help himself to perks and special favors — and taking deliberate steps to hide everything from Congress and taxpayers.”
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) called Pruitt’s approval and request of the privacy booth an “abuse of power.”
“There are few greater examples of government waste than a $43,000 phone booth. Now we know that the purchase wasn’t just unnecessary and wasteful, but actually illegal. Worse still, this is part of a pattern of abuse of power, ethics violations, and disrespect for the rule of law by Administrator Pruitt,” McCollum said in a statement.
“The American people deserve so much better than the culture of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence that is pervasive at Administrator Pruitt’s EPA.”