Watchdog: EPA broke law with $43K phone booth

By Danielle Haynes Follow @DanielleHaynes1 Contact the Author   |  April 16, 2018 at 2:59 PM
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April 16 (UPI) -- A federal watchdog said Monday the Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt's office without notifying Congress.

The Government Accountability Office said the phone booth qualifies as a furnishing. Under the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, the EPA is required to notify the Senate and House appropriations committees in advance of any furnishing spending above $5,000.

"Because EPA obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law, we conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act," the GAO said in its report.

There are two other soundproof phone booths at EPA headquarters, though neither are located in Pruitt's private offices.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee launched an investigation into allegations of ethical and spending abuses by Pruitt. On Friday, Chairman Trey Gowdy sent a letter requesting more information from Pruitt, who is accused of excessive spending on travel, vehicles, staff raises and security features, including the phone booth.

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.

Chmielewski said Pruitt insisted on staying at expensive hotels while traveling even if they exceeded allowable federal spending limits and told staff to book him on Delta Air Lines so he could accrue frequent flier miles.

Last month, Pruitt was scrutinized after travel documents released showed the EPA spent close to $90,000 to send him and his staff to Italy for one day for the G7 environmental summit. Included in that amount was a $36,000 military flight so Pruitt could join President Donald Trump at a Cincinnati event, then make it to New York in time for his flight to Rome.

Susan McFarland contributed to this report.

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