EPA vi­o­lated laws, watch­dog says


WASH­ING­TON — An in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment watch­dog says the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency vi­o­lated fed­eral spend­ing laws when pur­chas­ing a $43,000 sound­proof pri­vacy booth for Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt to make pri­vate phone calls in his of­fice.

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

GAO Gen­eral Coun­sel Thomas Arm­strong deter­mined the EPA’s pur­chase of the booth vi­o­lated fed­eral law pro­hibit­ing agen­cies from spend­ing more than $5,000 to make im­prove­ments to the of­fices of pres­i­den­tial ap­pointees with­out in­form­ing Congress. Be­cause the EPA used fed­eral money in a man­ner specif­i­cally pro­hib­ited by law, Arm­strong said the agency also vi­o­lated the An­tid­e­fi­ciency Act, and is legally ob­li­gated to re­port that vi­o­la­tion to Congress.

EPA spokes­woman Liz Bow­man said the agency is “ad­dress­ing GAO’s con­cern, with re­gard to con­gres­sional no­ti­fi­ca­tion about this ex­pense, and will be send­ing Congress the nec­es­sary in­for­ma­tion this week.”

The EPA has said pre­vi­ously that Pruitt needed the pri­vacy booth to make se­cure phone calls with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and oth­ers with­out fear of eaves­drop­ping. It is among sev­eral un­usual se­cu­rity pre­cau­tions taken by Pruitt that are now un­der scru­tiny, such as his use fre­quent use of first-class flights to avoid un­pleas­ant in­ter­ac­tions with other trav­ellers.

The As­so­ci­ated Press first re­ported in De­cem­ber that the EPA also spent about $9,000 for an out­side con­trac­tor to sweep Pruitt’s of­fice for se­cret lis­ten­ing de­vices and in­stalled bio­met­ric locks.

Demo­cratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mex­ico, who re­quested the GAO re­view, said the find­ing was yet an­other ex­am­ple of the em­bat­tled EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor flout­ing fed­eral spend­ing rules.

“An il­le­gal pri­vacy booth to con­duct se­cret dis­cus­sions with his pol­luter friends does noth­ing to help our health or en­vi­ron­ment,” Udall said Mon­day. “Scott Pruitt is be­hav­ing like swamp em­peror rather than EPA ad­min­is­tra­tor — he has shown a shock­ing lack of re­gard for pub­lic health and safety, ethics and fair­ness. He has been a dis­as­ter, and it’s past time for him to go.”


The En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency broke spend­ing laws when it paid $43,000 for a sound­proof booth for Ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt’s of­fice, ac­cord­ing to the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice.

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