EPA broke spending law on Pruitt phone booth: government watchdog

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A government watchdog agency concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal law in spending more than $43,000 to install a private phone booth in EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office, according to a report obtained by ABC News.

According to the Government Accountability Office, the EPA did not comply with the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act by spending more than $5,000 on the phone booth without notifying Congress.

PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with reporters at his office in Washington, July 10, 2017.Yuri Gripas/Reuters
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with reporters at his office in Washington, July 10, 2017.

The EPA “was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation,” the GAO wrote in the report. “By failing to provide such advance notice, EPA violated section 710” of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

The EPA spent more than $43,000 to install a “secure phone booth” in Pruitt’s office last year, according to agency documents obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-partisan and non-profit watchdog group.

Pruitt told a congressional committee he needed the booth to make secure calls to the White House and discuss classified information, but he was unable to tell the lawmakers how often he would use it.

The agency previously declined to publicly provide specific details about the private phone booth and whether it technically meets the requirements of a SCIF — a facility used for secure communications to discuss classified information. The EPA already has at least one SCIF elsewhere in its headquarters.

The agency also found that the EPA violated the Antideficiency Act by spending more than the amount approved by Congress for office renovations.

“Because EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time EPA incurred the obligation,” the GAO wrote in the report.

The agency concluded that the EPA should report the violations, which would require a report to the President and Congress, according to federal law.

ABC News has reached out to the EPA for a response.

PHOTO: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists in Washington, Jan. 9, 2018.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview with Reuters journalists in Washington, Jan. 9, 2018.

The Government Accountability Office is an independent, nonpolitical government agency that investigates spending of taxpayer money, including complaints of improper spending.

Both the GAO and the EPA’s internal watchdog were asked by members of Congress to look into the cost of Pruitt’s “secure phone booth.”

The EPA internal watchdog put its inquiry on hold while the GAO investigated.

This is a developing story. Please refresh for details.

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