Sunday, 23 September, 2018

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

Trey Gowdy Scott Pruitt should fly like a ‘monk’ instead of first class Modal Trigger Trey Gowdy and Scott Pruitt Getty Images
Beatrice Douglas | 17 April, 2018, 20:24

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.

If the agency had informed the House and Senate Appropriations committees of the plans to spend that amount on the booth, investigators said, its installation would not have been illegal.

But GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong concluded it indeed was covered by the rule, and that EPA officials broke the Antideficiency Act by not reporting it to Congress ahead of time.

"During your confirmation hearing, I specifically asked you to 'refrain from taking any action - that makes it hard or impossible for the public to access your official written communications under the Freedom of Information Act, '" Barrasso wrote Pruitt.

"The GAO letter "recognized the...need for employees to have access to a secure telephone line" when handling sensitive information", EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in a statement to the Daily News. Last week, a group of House and Senate Democrats published a detailed list of allegations suggesting mismanagement and lavish spending by Pruitt and his office.

Without advance notice to lawmakers, EPA obligated $43,239 from its fiscal 2017 environmental programs and management account to install the soundproof privacy booth in Pruitt's office, according to the GAO decision.


The room, known elsewhere in government as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or SCIF, is typically used for reading and meetings involving classified information.

-Michael Brune, Sierra ClubFederal law prohibits goverment agencies from dishing out more than $5,000 to "furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee during the period of appointment without prior notification to the appropriations committees of Congress". They blasted the EPA chief after the decision was released today.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt's ethics problems keep piling up. "An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", said Sen.

Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Tom Carper, D-Del., have also written the EPA's inspector general, asking him to investigate Pruitt's multiple emails. "Donald Trump shouldn't wait to see what ethical norm or law Pruitt breaks next".

"It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies comply with notification requirements to Congress before spending tax payer dollars", Senator John Barrasso, a Republican, said in a statement. "EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law".

The Associated Press first reported in December that EPA also spent about $9,000 for an outside contractor to sweep Pruitt's office for secret listening devices and installed biometric locks. Congress passed the legal provision to enable the EPA to better attract scientists and experts, but it did not put those restrictions on the agency.

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