Accountability Office: $43000 soundproof booth for EPA head violated law

Frederick Owens
April 17, 2018

A government watchdog says the Environmental Protection Agency broke federal laws when it spent thousands of dollars on a soundproof phone booth for Administrator Scott Pruitt's office.

EPA justified the $43,238 expenditure for the soundproof booth, saying Pruitt needed space where he could use a "classified telephone" so he could have private conversations about agency business.

In its report, the GAO explicitly said it drew "no conclusions" about whether or not the privacy booth was necessary for secure communications.

Democrats on Capitol Hill had requested the legal opinion from GAO on Pruitt's phone. "That is, a classified phone can not simply be put on an office desk or in a conference room", the EPA told GAO in a March 23 letter that the agency released on Monday. Former EPA officials told E&E News that the agency already has a SCIF in the basement of its Washington headquarters, which sees little use given the agency doesn't deal often with classified information (Greenwire, Sept. 27, 2017).

"The privacy booth is analogous to other functional functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television", the EPA letter said.

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The agency argued that the booth allowed Pruitt to "make and receive calls to discuss sensitive information ..." The agency will be sending the required information to lawmakers this week related to Pruitt's phone booth. They blasted the EPA chief after the decision was released today.

"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said in a statement "Scott Pruitt is behaving like swamp emperor rather than EPA administrator - he has shown a shocking lack of regard for public health and safety, ethics and fairness".

Pruitt is one of President Donald Trump's most controversial appointments and has done what he said he would when Trump named him to oversee the country's environmental regulations - dismantle numerous restrictive policies on the environmental practices of businesses imposed by the administration of former President Barack Obama. "He must fire him immediately", said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. Trump's EPA ended up violating two laws in the process, according to a new report by the US Government Accountability Office that was obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Because EPA used federal money in a manner specifically prohibited by law, Armstrong said the agency also violated the Antideficiency Act, and is legally obligated to report that violation to Congress. "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion".

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