EPA Violated Multiple Laws in Securing Scott Pruitt's Privacy Booth, GAO Finds

Clay Curtis
April 17, 2018

The Government Accountability Office issued its findings Monday in a letter to Senate Democrats who had requested a review of Pruitt's spending.

"EPA violated section 710 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017 when it failed to notify the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and Senate prior to obligating in excess of $5,000 to install a soundproof privacy booth for the office of the Administrator during his period of appointment".

"The new information provided by Mr. Chmiewelski, if accurate, leaves us certain that your leadership at EPA has been fraught with numerous and repeated unethical and potentially illegal actions on a wide range of consequential matters that you and some members of your staff directed", the lawmakers wrote to Pruitt.

The EPA claimed that the soundproof booth - like that used by bumbling spy Maxwell Smart from the 60's sitcom and 2008 flick "Get Smart" starring Steve Carrell - was not part of the redecoration of Pruitt's office so the $5,000 cap didn't apply. In a letter to GAO, EPA argued the booth was not furnishing the office but merely equipment necessary for Pruitt to do his job.

"EPA is addressing GAO's concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week", said Liz Bowman, an EPA spokeswoman.

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".

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In an eight-page letter to lawmakers, GAO general counsel Thomas Armstrong said the agency failed to notify lawmakers that it was exceeding the $5,000 limit for agency heads to furnish, redecorate or otherwise make improvements to their offices.

Also on Monday, the EPA's Office of Inspector General released documents showing EPA's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, had signed off on pay raises for three of Pruitt's staff, including a raise of $29,000 to above $114,000 for his scheduling director, Millan Hupp. The unusual hiring and granting the raises of two Oklahoma aides using the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 drew plenty of scrutinies. After her second raise, Greenwalt was earning slightly more than $164,000. It's simple: Pruitt broke the law, and no amount of excuses can save him now.

The new reports come as the White House seeks to shake off persistent criticism by lawmakers of ethical lapses and wasteful spending by Trump's senior officials - something that has helped fuel a high rate of turnover.

"Because EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time EPA incurred the obligation", GAO said. "EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law".

Other Republicans have been more forceful in criticizing Pruitt.

In a April 4 meeting with Fox News, " Pruitt asserted he wasn't sure perhaps whoever authorized the raise turned into a career EPA worker or some political appointee.

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