The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when it approved a $43,000 soundproof phone booth past year for the office of embattled Administrator Scott Pruitt, a congressional watchdog unit said on Monday.
According to the Government Accountability Office, the EPA did not comply with the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act by spending more than $5,000 on the phone booth without notifying Congress.
The G.A.O. said it was not taking a position on whether or not the installation of the privacy booth was necessary, but was focusing only on whether the agency violated the Antideficiency Act, which is created to prevent the spending of money that has not been budgeted.
There are two other soundproof phone booths at EPA headquarters, though neither are located in Pruitt's private offices.
"Today's GAO report is the latest proof of the rampant corruption and misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Pruitt", Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement. Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency. The GAO does not have enforcement power, which means Congress or another federal agency must take action if there are to be any legal consequences for the EPA's violations.
"You need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you", Gowdy said. The agency will be sending the required information to lawmakers this week related to Pruitt's phone booth. In Minoli's letter, EPA told GAO that the booth "not only enables the Administrator to make and receive phone calls to discuss sensitive information, but it also enables him to use this area to make and receive classified telephone calls (up to the top secret level) for the goal of conducting agency business".
On Wednesday, the Republican oversight chairman had written to push for more answers from Pruitt about his first-class travels, and to say the committee plans to evaluate the $50-a-night rental the EPA head had with a lobbyist. In its report, the GAO explicitly said it drew "no conclusions" about whether or not the privacy booth was necessary for secure communications.
Gowdy said he has become concerned about whether Pruitt's explanations for his spending as EPA administrator are credible. "EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law", Barrasso said.