The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is expanding an investigation into alleged ethical and spending abuses by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. The law prohibits an agency from obligating more than $5,000 in federal funds to furnish, redecorate or make improvements in the office of a presidential appointee without first notifying appropriations committees in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
In this case, EPA principal general counsel Kevin Minoli said, the privacy booth wasn't created to "enhance the value of existing office space or to make it better".
Read the GAO report here. Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency. Pruitt gave no such heads-up before spending more than $43,000 on the "soundproof privacy booth". In its report, the GAO explicitly said it drew "no conclusions" about whether or not the privacy booth was necessary for secure communications.
"We have responded to Chairman Gowdy's inquiries and we will continue to work with him", EPA spokesperson Jahan Wilcox said in statement Friday.
They also inquired about a lease for a bedroom in a Capitol Hill condominium that Pruitt rented in 2017. Last week, Democratic lawmakers asked him to provide documents about ethics issues they said were revealed to them by a former agency official, including spending on bulletproof vests, guns and a contract with an Italian security service.
"Scott Pruitt likes to talk about returning the EPA to the rule of law, but it turns out he's better at breaking it than following it".
"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said Monday.
Gowdy added that he would be "shocked" if many members of the general public even knew who Pruitt was, but that, as a government official, Pruitt should be prepared to take criticism from the public.
Republicans also expressed concerns in response to the GAO ruling released today.
"It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies comply with notification requirements to Congress before spending taxpayer dollars", he said.
Gowdy said he has become concerned about whether Pruitt's explanations for his spending as EPA administrator are credible. Trump's EPA ended up violating two laws in the process, according to a new report by the US Government Accountability Office that was obtained by BuzzFeed News.