EPA must explain why Pruitt's $43000 phone booth was legal: Republican senator

Michael Osbun  Op-Art

WASHINGTON-A $43,000 soundproof phone booth for Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt violated the law, a government oversight body said Monday, because the agency didn't notify Congress before making the purchase.

The expenditure did not run afoul of law requiring congressional notification for expenditures of more than $5,000 for improvements to an agency head's office because it was needed for official agency business, Kevin Minoli, the EPA's principal deputy general counsel, wrote in a March 23 letter to the GAO.

The EPA violated the law when it approved the phone booth a year ago for Pruitt's office, the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, said earlier on Monday.

The GAO report also said that it concluded that the EPA was in violation of the Antideficiency Act because the agency "obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law".

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

The GAO had been asked to investigate the matter by Democratic lawmakers including U.S. Senators Tom Carper and Tom Udall.

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Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and typically a staunch defender of Pruitt, agreed that EPA needs to follow the law.

Chmielewski said Pruitt insisted on staying at expensive hotels while traveling even if they exceeded allowable federal spending limits and told staff to book him on Delta Air Lines so he could accrue frequent flier miles.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who is overseeing an investigation into Pruitt as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, skewered the administrator on Sunday over his claim that he booked first-class flights to avoid verbal attacks from fellow passengers in the coach section.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 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.

Pruitt said in an interview with Fox News this month that he had no knowledge of the raises. "There will be some accountability".

"We welcome any review of hiring practices" under the Safe Water Drinking Act and are cooperating with the inspector general, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said.

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