EPA must explain why Pruitt's $43000 phone booth was legal: Republican senator

Cheriss May  Zuma

The agency violated the law by using more than $5,000 of fiscal 2017 appropriated funds for an unintended objective without giving lawmakers advance notice, GAO investigators wrote in a report released Monday.

Armstrong also said his decision was not a ruling on whether the EPA and Pruitt should have installed the phone booth to begin with. Pruitt gave no such heads-up before spending more than $43,000 on the "soundproof privacy booth".

Pruitt has taken several security precautions that are now under scrutiny, including his frequent use of first-class flights to avoid hostile interactions with other travelers.

He spent almost $6,000 buying specialized locks requiring fingerprints to open a door, the Associated Press reported past year.

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.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt's ethics problems keep piling up. "He has been a disaster, and it's past time for him to go".

In a so-called "government watchful", EPA inspector-general Arthur Elkins Jr. explained his team had examined employees records for 6 workers who were hired or had received increases beneath a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act as Pruitt arrived to the bureau past year. One of the employees secured two successive raises amounting to a 67.6 percent increase, worth $66,244, raising the salary to $164,200. Scheduling director Millian Hupp, 26, saw her salary jump to $114,590, with raises totaling more than $48,000.

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Pruitt's office should have reported the phone booth to lawmakers, the watchdog agency noted.

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Kevin Chmielewski, formerly Pruitt's deputy chief of staff for operations, told congressional investigators last week that although Jackson signed off on the raises, Pruitt knew about the entire process.

Pruitt said he reversed the raises for Hupp and Greenwalt after the uproar over them, but the OIG did not have the information to confirm that.

Pruitt and those around him are also under investigation by the EPA's own inspector general, which has at least five ongoing Pruitt-related probes.

But Ken Cook, president of the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, said Pruitt needs to be more transparent about his operations.

"It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies comply with notification requirements to Congress before spending tax payer dollars", the Wyoming Republican said.

EPA spokesman Liz Bowman said the agency is addressing the concern raised by the Government Accountability Office "with regard to congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week". On Sunday, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) ripped into Pruitt for citing security concerns as a reason he needed to fly first class.

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