Pruitt's Soundproof Phone Booth Broke Laws, Watchdog Says

Pruitt's Soundproof Phone Booth Broke Laws, Watchdog Says

Rep. Trey Gowdy, who is now investigating Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, had some harsh words for Pruitt's controversial travel habits.

"W$3 e conclude that EPA violated section 710 [of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act] 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", Thomas H. Armstrong, the GAO's general counsel, wrote.

Pruitt's use of $43,000 on a phone booth is only the latest report of his exorbitant spending, which also includes excessive first class travel on the taxpayers' dime.

A 2017 spending bill capped at $5,000 expenditures to "furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee". Beyond that, the agency spent another almost $20,000 on concrete floor leveling, ceiling installation, painting and removal of closed-circuit television equipment to accommodate its installation.

The agency also found that the EPA violated the Antideficiency Act by spending more than the amount Congress approved.

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"The GAO letter "recognized the...need for employees to have access to a secure telephone line" when handling sensitive information", she said.

Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman, said the agency was "addressing GAO's concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week".

Gowdy's letter was sent one day after lawmakers heard details from the EPA's former deputy chief of staff for operations, Kevin Chmielewski, who said those who questioned Pruitt's unethical behavior were retaliated against.

Back in December, Pruitt told the House Energy and Commerce Committee he needed the equipment to conduct secure conversations with White House officials.

President Trump continues to stand by his embattled Cabinet member, tweeting earlier this month that Pruitt's "bold actions" as EPA administrator in deregulaton efforts point to the "great job" he's doing.

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