WASHINGTON — The EPA broke the law when it failed to tell lawmakers on House and Senate spending committees that it was allocating more than $43,000 to install a soundproof phone booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt's office last year, according to a congressional watchdog agency.
In a report issued Monday, the Government Accountability Office said the agency violated the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2017 when it failed to notify both House and Senate appropriations committees prior to obligating the money to install a soundproof privacy booth in Pruitt's office.
The privacy booth cost $24,570, including delivery and assembly, according to the GAO. The remaining expenses included: "Concrete Floor Leveling” ($3,470); “Drop Ceiling Installation” ($3,360.97) “Prep and Wall Painting” ($3,350); “Removal of CCTV Equipment” ($7,978); and “Infrastructure Cabling and Wiring" ($509.71).
EPA Spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency would comply with the findings and alert lawmakers.
“The GAO letter ‘recognized the…need for employees to have access to a secure telephone line’ when handling sensitive information," she said. "EPA is addressing GAO’s concern, with regard to Congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week.”
The GAO's review was requested by several key Democratic lawmakers, led by Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Wyoming GOP Sen. John Barrasso, a Pruitt ally who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee said it's "critical" all federal agencies including the EPA follow the law.
"EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law," Barrasso said.
During a congressional hearing in December, Pruitt said he needed the equipment to conduct private calls with White House officials and others in the administration without the fear of eavesdropping.
"There are secure conversations that need to be take place at times," he told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "Cabinet-level officials need to have access to secure communications (systems)."
The installation of the phone booth is one of several issues Pruitt's critics have seized on in calling for President Trump to dismiss him.
The former Oklahoma Attorney General has been slammed for allegedly giving aides raises after the White House told him not to, for renting a bedroom in a Capitol Hill apartment owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist, and for spending more than $100,000 on luxury air travel.
“The GAO report underscores that Scott Pruitt shouldn’t be trusted with a child’s piggy bank, much less with access to the federal treasury,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.
President Trump continues to stand by his embattled Cabinet member, tweeting earlier this month that Pruitt's "bold actions" as EPA administrator in deregulaton efforts point to the "great job" he's doing.