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

17 April, 2018, 10:40 | Author: Sheila Harris
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Section 710 of a 2017 government appropriations act prohibits spending more than US$5,000 to furnish, redecorate or make improvements to an office of a presidential appointee without prior notification to Congress.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency "will be sending Congress the necessary information this week".

EPA also told the GAO 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". It is among several unusual security precautions taken by Pruitt that are now under scrutiny, like his use frequent use of first-class flights to avoid unpleasant interactions with other travelers.

The phone booth itself cost more than $24,000, and was installed in a storage closet inside Pruitt's office, the missive notes.

"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said.

"Scott Pruitt likes to talk about returning the EPA to the rule of law, but it turns out he's better at breaking it than following it". The inspector general released employment forms that appear to show that Mr. Pruitt's chief of staff signed off on two controversial salary hikes that went to favored staffers whom the administrator had brought with him from Oklahoma.

Pruitt and those around him are under multiple investigations launched by government watchdogs and congressional committees.

USA government watchdogs rapped two members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet on Monday over their spending a year ago, adding pressure on an administration already roiled by ethics complaints.

"Salaries are based on work history; and, any increases are due to either new and additional responsibilities or promotions", EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in reference to the OIG probe into the hiring and salary raises.

The White House previously had refused the raises for Greenwalt and Hupp, and The Atlantic reported that the Safe Drinking Water Act was used to maneuver around that decision.

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GAO's conclusions, outlined in a letter to congressional Democrats, relate to the legality of the purchase and not whether the booth was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.

Pruitt - who has also come under fire for expensive travel and a sweetheart deal on a room in a DC condo he rented from a business lobbyist until he was tossed out - claimed that the private phone booth was a necessity.

In an unusual management alert issued Monday, EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins said his staff had reviewed personnel documents for six employees who were hired or had received raises under the Safe Drinking Water Act since Pruitt came to the agency previous year.

The chief of staff for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt authorized salary increases for at least three employees - one of which was worth 72 percent, the agency's watchdog revealed Monday.

The names of the employees at issue were blacked out from the documents released to the public, though the hire dates and raises awarded to two of the redacted employees exactly matched information for Greenwalt and Hupp.

Pruitt's EPA has argued that the booth should not be considered an office redecoration or renovation and thus should not be subject to the $5,000 limit.

Republicans also criticized Pruitt after the latest round of ethical violations.

Other Republicans have been more forceful in criticizing Pruitt.

Pruitt said in an interview with Fox News this month that he had no knowledge of the raises.

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