$43000 soundproof booth for EPA chief Pruitt violated law -US GAO


Pruitt gave no such heads-up before spending more than $43,000 on the "soundproof privacy booth".

But GAO noted the agency didn't say whether the booth was certified as a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF. EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency "will be sending Congress the necessary information this week".

In a letter sent Monday to four Democratic lawmakers who had asked for an opinion GAO said EPA violated section 710 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act when it spent more than $43,000 "for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without providing advance notice" to the appropriations committees of the Senate and House.

The GAO-which is the federal government's independent watchdog-also found that the EPA allocated the funds in a way that violated a second federal law, the Antideficiency Act.

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". 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.

The EPA was required to tell Congress before it purchased the phone booth, exceeding the $5,000 limit on decorating and furnishing Pruitt's office, but didn't.

The EPA also said that the booth was "analogous to other functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television" - even though no previous agency head had a similar set-up and there were secure lines already in place at EPA headquarters. In its report, the GAO explicitly said it drew "no conclusions" about whether or not the privacy booth was necessary for secure communications. The lawmakers requested documents from Pruitt that would confirm these allegations. 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!"

The Environmental Protection Agency has made a decision to remove a toxic waste site that was flooded by Hurricane Harvey from its priority cleanup list. "He must fire him immediately", said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. 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.

"Because EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time EPA incurred the obligation", GAO said.

EPA in the past has run up against GAO legal opinions.