Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and his office violated the law by installing a soundproof phone booth in his office — to the tune of $43,000.
Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, ruled the costly phone booth illegal, according to the New York Times. The reason the agency ruled the installation illegal? The cost amounted to more than $5,000, and therefore must be reported to Congress. Before spending more than $5,000 on office equipment, the agency must alert Congress.
Ultimately, the installation violated two laws — the Antideficiency Act, which should prevent unbudgeted spending, as well as the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, which places the $5,000 limit on political appointees spending on any one office item. So far, the G.A.O. hasn’t commented on whether the booth is necessary or not.
According to the E.P.A., the booth is a necessity because classified and top secret information phone calls occur inside it. The booth itself costs about $24,000, and the booth’s installation costs around $20,000 because of all the necessary steps to make it secure.
At least four members of Congress, including Senator Tom Udall (D, New Mexico), accused Pruitt of blatantly abusing his position to enjoy unnecessary perks at his office. Even Wyoming Senator, John Barrasso (R), who oversees the E.P.A. as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, criticized the office for not complying with the letter of the law.
Wrapped up a visit with @EPA ORD staff and a tour of the lab in Cincinnati. We received an update on research being conducted on drinking water pipe corrosion and the importance of updating our aged #infrastructure across the country to maintain the highest water quality. pic.twitter.com/WNkvRwcrQ5— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) April 16, 2018
For its part, the E.P.A. plans to send over everything Congress needs about the purchase this week in an attempt to clear up this apparent misstep. According to the G.A.O., no laws would have blocked the purchase had the agency actually followed the correct procedures in the first place.
In other news about Pruitt, Arthur A. Elkins Jr., E.P.A. Inspector General, is investigating possibly problematic hiring and raise practices at the E.P.A. since Pruitt’s appointment by President Donald Trump. The unusual hiring and granting the raises of two Oklahoma aides using the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 drew plenty of scrutinies. One of the hires, Sarah Greenwalt, also served as Pruitt’s general counsel when he served as Oklahoma’s attorney general. Another, Millan Hupp, served Pruitt in Oklahoma as a consultant.
While Pruitt denies any knowledge of the raises, Elkins continues his investigation, and he hasn’t reached his final conclusion.