A federal watchdog on Monday said the Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it spent more than $43,000 on a new soundproof phone booth for its chief, Scott Pruitt. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Reps.
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.
In a so-called "management alert", EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins Jr. said his staff had reviewed personnel documents for six employees who were hired or had received raises under a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act since Pruitt came to the agency past year. "EPA should report its Antideficiency Act violation as required by law". "EPA is addressing GAO's concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week". The booth's cost far exceeded the $5,000 legal limit for how much a presidential appointee can spend "to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements" to his or her office.
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"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". The lawmakers requested documents from Pruitt that would confirm these allegations.
Pruitt also removed a superfund site in Nevada from the list and added three other sites.
GAO declined to comment on whether the soundproof booth, which was built out of a former storage closet in the administrator's office, was the most effective way to ensure private communications. President Donald Trump has repeatedly backed Pruitt through the revelations - about expensive travel, a below-market-rate lease from an energy lobbyist, and raises given to aides against White House direction - calling him a "good man" who "is doing a great job!" Among the issues being investigated is whether Pruitt's office properly used authority granted to the EPA administrator under the Safe Drinking Water Act to hire and give raises to a limited number of employees.
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"It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies comply with notification requirements to Congress before spending tax payer dollars", the Wyoming Republican said.
Pruitt said in an interview with Fox News this month that he had no knowledge of the raises.
"Salaries are based on work history; and, any increases are due to either new and additional responsibilities or promotions", EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in reference to the OIG probe into the hiring and salary raises.
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"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment, " Udall said Monday.