GAO: Cost Of EPA Chief's Phone Booth Broke The Law

EPA Administrator-designate Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt on Capitol Hill at his confirmation hearing in 2017

The chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is seeking details about U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Scott Pruitt's use of four different agency email addresses.

In a so-called "government watchful", EPA inspector-general Arthur Elkins Jr. explained his team had examined employees records for 6 workers who were hired or had received increases beneath a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act as Pruitt arrived to the bureau a year ago.

EPA spokesman Liz Bowman said the agency is addressing the concern raised by the Government Accountability Office "with regard to congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week".

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The cost of the soundproof phone booth came to $43,238.68. "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion".

The agency violated the law by using more than $5,000 of fiscal 2017 appropriated funds for an unintended objective without giving lawmakers advance notice, GAO investigators wrote in a report released Monday.

In its explanation to the GAO included in the report, the EPA equated the booth to other necessary office supplies and argued it was needed to "support specific mission requirements" and allow Pruitt to carry out agency business "without concern that classified, deliberative, privileged, or sensitive information might inadvertently be disclosed to those who are not meant to receive such information". EPA's inspector general has at least five ongoing Pruitt-related probes, while the House oversight panel on Friday demanded interviews with five of the EPA administrator's closest aides.

Jackson increased the aides' pay using a special authority the EPA has under the Safe Drinking Water Act, after the White House rejected the EPA's request to make the raises through the normal procedure for political appointees.

"GAO recognizes the requirement to protect classified material and draws no conclusions regarding whether the installation of the privacy booth was the only, or the best way for EPA to provide a secure telephone line for the Administrator".

Democrats on Capitol Hill had requested the legal opinion from GAO on Pruitt's phone.

EPA Chief of Employees Ryan Jackson.

"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said Monday. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA.

"I found out this yesterday and now I corrected the action and also we are in the practice of finding the way it occurred and correcting it", Pruitt responded, however he didn't say if anybody will be terminated.

Because the EPA failed to inform Congress about the soundproof booth, the agency "used its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law", the GAO concluded in an eight-page report made public on Monday.

"It's simple: Pruitt broke the law, and no amount of excuses can save him now", Brune added. "He must fire him immediately", said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

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