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GAO: EPA violated spending laws building soundproof booth in Pruitt's office

GAO: EPA violated spending laws building soundproof booth in Pruitt's office

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when installing a soundproof booth in his office, according to the top federal auditor.

-Michael Brune, Sierra ClubFederal law prohibits goverment agencies from dishing out more than $5,000 to "furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee during the period of appointment without prior notification to the appropriations committees of Congress".

EPA said the bill for the soundproof booth, built in a former storage closet in Pruitt's office, included more than $24,000 for the booth itself and its assembly, $8,000 to remove closed circuit television equipment, $3,300 to drop the ceiling around the booth and another $3,300 for painting.

EPA justified the $43,238 expenditure for the soundproof booth, saying Pruitt needed space where he could use a "classified telephone" so he could have private conversations about agency business.

"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 for the administrator", GAO wrote in its letter. Former EPA officials told E&E News that the agency already has a SCIF in the basement of its Washington headquarters, which sees little use given the agency doesn't deal often with classified information (Greenwire, Sept. 27, 2017). The agency will be sending the required information to lawmakers this week related to Pruitt's phone booth.

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In its explanation to the GAO included in the report, the EPA equated the booth to other necessary office supplies and argued it was needed to "support specific mission requirements" and allow Pruitt to carry out agency business "without concern that classified, deliberative, privileged, or sensitive information might inadvertently be disclosed to those who are not meant to receive such information". They blasted the EPA chief after the decision was released today. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA.

"Worse still, this is part of a pattern of abuse of power, ethics violations, and disrespect for the rule of law by Administrator Pruitt", the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement.

Despite his assorted controversies, Pruitt has remained a favorite of President Trump for his anti-regulation and pro-business stances. "He must fire him immediately", said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong said the agency also violated the federal Antideficiency Act, "because EPA obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law". "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion".


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