GAO: Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof booth violates spending laws


By Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin | The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The nearly $43,000 soundproof phone booth Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt had installed in his office last year violated federal spending laws, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.

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. In addition, Armstrong wrote, the agency also violated the federal Antideficiency Act, “because EPA obligated appropriated funds in a manner specifically prohibited by law.”

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The EPA had argued that the almost $25,000 customized phone booth — which required painting, concrete and electrical work totaling more than $18,000 to reconfigure the small closet area where it was placed — was not part of a redecoration of Pruitt’s office and should not be subject to the $5,000 cap.

While the agency maintains other areas in its building where officials can place secure calls, and while none of Pruitt’s predecessors have had such a setup, the agency argued the privacy booth allows Pruitt to “make and receive calls to discuss sensitive information . . . (up to the top secret level) for the purpose of conducting agency business.” It also argued the booth was “analogous to other functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television.”

The GAO did not buy those arguments. Rather, Armstrong wrote that the booth met the criteria to be included under federal requirements that dictate agency heads stick to a $5,000 limit in upgrading their offices. As such, he wrote, “EPA was required to notify appropriations committees of its proposed obligation.”

Armstrong made it clear Monday the decision was not a ruling on whether the EPA and Pruitt should have installed the high-priced phone booth to begin with.

“We draw no conclusions regarding whether the installation of the privacy booth was the only, or the best, way for EPA to provide a secure telephone line for the Administrator,” he wrote. “EPA’s failure to make the necessary notification is the only subject of this opinion.”

In an email Monday, EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman reiterated Armstrong’s point, saying GAO “recognized” …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics

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