GAO: Pruitt Broke Law in Buying $43K Private Phone Booth

Michael Osbun  Op-Art

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is ratcheting up his investigations into Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt in the wake of ongoing allegations of profligate spending of taxpayers' money by the agency.

However, as the Government Accountability Office noted in their report, Pruitt did not seek permission for his lavish phone booth spending and "by failing to provide such advance notice, EPA violated section 710" of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act which requires spending above $5,000 to be preapproved by Congress. Additionally, because EPA "obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law", GAO said the agency also violated the Antideficiency Act. Pruitt gave no such heads-up before spending more than $43,000 on the "soundproof privacy booth".

"According to the analysis, agency officials must notify Congress before "obligating or expending an amount in excess of $5,000" on office improvements". The agency paid $23,000 for the phone booth and another $25,000 install a drop ceiling, remove closed-circuit television equipment and pour more concrete around the booth, according to agency contracts. "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion".

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Also set to be interviewed by the committee is Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign aide who was Pruitt's deputy chief of staff. Chmielewski alleges he was placed on involuntary, unpaid leave in retaliation for pushing back against Pruitt's outsized spending demands.

Pruitt has been under fire from Republican and Democratic lawmakers for expensive travel and other expenses.

Gowdy added that he would be "shocked" if many members of the general public even knew who Pruitt was, but that, as a government official, Pruitt should be prepared to take criticism from the public.

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Jahan Wilcox, EPA spokesman, said the agency had "responded to Chairman Gowdy's inquiries and we will continue to work with him".

"The notion that I've got to fly first class because I don't want people to be mean to me, you need to go into another line of work if you don't want people to be mean to you", he said, joking that Pruitt should become a monk in order to avoid interacting with anyone.

Earlier in the year, Pruitt said he traveled first-class because of security concerns, citing the tense political environment.

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