The Slatest

Watchdog Agency: EPA Violated Federal Spending Laws With $43,000 Phone Booth in Scott Pruitt’s Office

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt
Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The government spending watchdog agency has found that the Environmental Protection Agency violated federal spending laws with the installation of a $43,000 phone booth in Scott Pruitt’s office, the Washington Post reports.

According to the Government Accountability Office, which released a letter to lawmakers Monday, the agency should have notified congressional appropriations committees that it planned to exceed a $5,000 cap for the heads of agencies to decorate and furnish their offices.

“Because the EPA did not comply with the notification requirement, the funds were not legally available at the time,” GAO general counsel Thomas H. Armstrong wrote in the letter, emphasizing that it was not the purchase itself, which could have been justified legally, but the failure to notify lawmakers that violated federal laws.

“We draw no conclusions regarding whether the installation of the privacy booth was the only, or the best, way for the EPA to provide a secure telephone line for the Administrator,” he also wrote.

The agency has argued that the soundproof booth, which was so expensive in part because it was modified to be more secure and because Pruitt’s office had to be modified around it, should not have been considered a part of office decoration but essentially as equipment necessary for work. A secure phone booth in Pruitt’s office was required for communication with White House officials, they said. The GAO disagreed, ruling that the rules applied to any improvement to an office, even if practical in nature.

No previous EPA administrators have had private phone booths in their offices, and the EPA offices have other locations to make secure phone calls.

Pruitt has run into trouble in the past over his spending. He has a preference for first-class travel and private planes, on the taxpayer’s dime. In March, the EPA signed off on a Canadian company’s pipeline plan while Pruitt (a nightmare tenant, it turned out, despite the sweetheart deal) was renting a D.C. condo for only $50 a night from a powerful lobbyist working for the company. In April, it was revealed Pruitt personally signed off on some questionable raises for his staffers and then lied about it. His large, 24-hour security detail, which the EPA has said was necessary because of “unprecedented” numbers of death threats against him, has cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The list goes on.

Molly Olmstead is a Slate assistant social media editor.