GAO: $43,000 soundproof booth for EPA head violated law

The $43,000 purchase of a soundproof booth for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's office vi...

Posted: Apr 16, 2018 5:41 PM
Updated: Apr 16, 2018 5:41 PM

The $43,000 purchase of a soundproof booth for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt's office violated federal law, the Government Accountability Office concluded Monday.

The GAO, a government spending watchdog that reports to Congress, cites a requirement that executive branch agencies must notify Congress before spending more than $5,000 on certain office improvements.

"Because EPA violated this statutory requirement, we also conclude that EPA violated the Antideficiency Act and should report its violation to the Congress and the President as required by law," GAO said in a statement by one of its attorneys, Julie Matta.

GAO's conclusions, outlined in a letter to congressional Democrats, relate to the legality of the purchase and not whether the booth was an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.

It is not yet clear what the consequences, if any, may be. President Donald Trump has repeatedly backed Pruitt through the revelations -- about expensive travel, a below-market-rate lease from an energy lobbyist, and raises given to aides against White House direction -- calling him a "good man" who "is doing a great job!"

Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to employ an around-the-clock security detail. He has flown first or business class when traveling. He installed biometric locks on his office and closed the area around it to EPA personnel who are not on an approved list. The agency paid $3,000 to a business partner of his security chief to check his office for spying technology.

EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The $24,570 "privacy booth for the administrator" was ordered in August from a Virginia-based company that specializing in soundproofing materials. The total price of around $43,000 included renovations to prepare space for the booth, including removing a closed circuit camera system.

The room, known elsewhere in government as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or SCIF, is typically used for reading and meetings involving classified information. The EPA headquarters building already had a SCIF, according to former employees.

Pruitt told Congress in December he uses the booth for communications with the White House. EPA also told the GAO the booth "not only enables the administrator to make and receive phone calls to discuss sensitive information, but it also enables him to use this area to make and receive classified telephone calls (up to the top secret level) for the purpose of conducting agency business."

EPA's "Security Management Division requires that a classified telephone must be located in an area where the employee can have private conversations. That is, a classified phone cannot simply be put on an office desk or in a conference room," the EPA told GAO, according to the report.

EPA interpreted the requirement it notify Congress applies to "aesthetic improvement(s)" made to Pruitt's office, and compared the $43,000 booth to purchasing other electronics required for an employee's job.

"EPA also maintained that the 'privacy booth is analogous to other functional items an employee might require to perform his job duties such as a high speed computer, high speed copier/scanner, or television,'" the GAO report read, quoting from materials provided by the EPA.

The GAO found the law is more broad and applies to changes like the booth, which provides "a new, practical addition to the office." The eight-page report spends several paragraphs contemplating the meanings of words like "furnish" and "redecorate."

Last week, a former deputy chief of staff to Pruitt, spoke to congressional investigators about his concerns with Pruitt's spending. After the meetings, several Democratic lawmakers raised concerns that a variety of Pruitt's actions are "unethical and potentially illegal."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 593622

Reported Deaths: 7379
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1228171731
Ramsey51446875
Dakota45976452
Anoka41782439
Washington26948283
Stearns22266222
St. Louis17787304
Scott17296124
Wright16082140
Olmsted1325598
Sherburne1173087
Carver1050745
Clay816392
Rice8063107
Blue Earth751541
Crow Wing666290
Kandiyohi656283
Chisago601351
Otter Tail575478
Benton571697
Goodhue478572
Douglas468575
Mower466232
Winona455050
Itasca439156
McLeod424559
Isanti422464
Morrison419660
Nobles408048
Beltrami397059
Steele388715
Polk384868
Becker380953
Lyon361051
Carlton345654
Freeborn342029
Pine329022
Nicollet326243
Brown305440
Mille Lacs305053
Le Sueur292423
Todd282432
Cass273428
Meeker256640
Waseca236322
Martin230732
Roseau209419
Wabasha20613
Hubbard190041
Dodge18513
Renville180343
Redwood174337
Houston171916
Cottonwood165823
Fillmore156510
Wadena155922
Pennington153719
Faribault152419
Chippewa152338
Kanabec144726
Sibley143810
Aitkin135036
Watonwan13289
Rock128319
Jackson121812
Pipestone115926
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11056
Murray10639
Swift105618
Stevens91411
Marshall88117
Clearwater86916
Koochiching83615
Wilkin81612
Lake81120
Lac qui Parle75322
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5788
Mahnomen5539
Norman5399
Unassigned49293
Kittson48622
Red Lake3977
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 367236

Reported Deaths: 5940
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57666626
Linn20892335
Scott20060241
Black Hawk15824308
Woodbury15138228
Johnson1449183
Dubuque13380208
Dallas1118398
Pottawattamie11132168
Story1062348
Warren577988
Clinton555893
Cerro Gordo540689
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481399
Des Moines458066
Wapello4303122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419372
Plymouth401280
Lee376055
Marion362875
Jones299057
Henry291937
Carroll285752
Bremer284860
Crawford266240
Boone265034
Benton256655
Washington254050
Dickinson248543
Mahaska230451
Jackson222142
Clay215725
Kossuth215564
Tama209871
Delaware209741
Winneshiek196835
Page192722
Buchanan191432
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184737
Hamilton180049
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler165034
Madison162519
Mills162422
Floyd161142
Cherokee158938
Lyon158241
Poweshiek154934
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148434
Winnebago142531
Cass138654
Calhoun138513
Grundy136333
Emmet134240
Jefferson132435
Shelby131137
Sac130419
Union128333
Louisa128149
Appanoose128049
Mitchell126442
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120721
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100224
Unassigned9710
Keokuk96031
Monroe95329
Ida90435
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis83024
Monona82730
Osceola78716
Greene77710
Lucas77223
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Taylor66012
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