Scott Pruitt's $43K soundproof phone booth reportedly broke spending laws

Nellie Chapman
April 17, 2018

The $43,000 phone booth was only one of several controversial spending decisions by Pruitt, who spent more than $100,000 on first-class travel, rented a bedroom at a rate far below market value from the wife of an energy lobbyist, and gave big raises to two aides that the White House refused to approve.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the law when it approved a $43,000 soundproof phone booth past year for the office of embattled Administrator Scott Pruitt, a congressional watchdog unit said on Monday.

"According to the analysis, agency officials must notify Congress before "obligating or expending an amount in excess of $5,000" on office improvements".

EPA officials tried to argue the booth didn't violate the code because it was a functional matter and not a decorative upgrade.

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.

The auditors did not make a determination on the propriety of the soundproof booth purchase, even saying that had EPA notified Congress there would have been no issue with the spending. It cost $3,470 to do concrete floor leveling, another $7,978 to remove closed-circuit TV equipment and $3,350 to paint.

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The report comes amid slowly intensifying Republican criticism of the EPA over its growing list of spending scandals. The GAO's report rejects that contention.

Previously, the EPA had admitted the phone booth cost $25,000 but according to the Washington Post, that number did not include the full cost of installation, which also included a whopping $18,000 bill for prep work to prepare the space for the secure booth, bringing the cost up to $43,000. "EPA's failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion", he writes. It only said in the report that the proper process of making the expenditure was violated.

"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.

Investigators said such spending clearly falls in the category of needing congressional approval if it exceeds $5,000.

He spent almost $6,000 buying specialized locks requiring fingerprints to open a door, the Associated Press reported past year. "Now we know that the purchase wasn't just unnecessary and wasteful, but actually illegal".

"Today's GAO report is the latest proof of the rampant corruption and misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency under Administrator Pruitt", Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota, said in a statement.

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