WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The US Environmental Protection Agency UU He broke the law when he approved a $ 43,000 soundproof telephone booth last year for the besieged administrator Scott Pruitt's office, a congressional control unit said on Monday.
The Office of Government Accountability said that the EPA violated the Financial Services and the General Government Appropriations Act. The law prohibits an agency from forcing more than $ 5,000 in federal funds to furnish, redecorate or make improvements to the office of a presidential designee without first notifying the appropriation committees in the US Senate and House of Representatives.
The EPA also violated the Anti- Deficiency Law, which prohibits federal agencies from incurring expenditures in excess of the funds available in the appropriations, the GAO said.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency was "addressing the GAO's concern regarding the Congress notification of this expense, and sending the necessary information to Congress this week."
The privacy stand, which Pruitt told lawmakers at a hearing that was needed to conduct agency business, was built in a location in an old storage closet in the administrator's office.
Democratic lawmakers, including US Senators Tom Carper and Tom Udall, asked the GAO to investigate the matter.
Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican and chairman of the Senate environmental committee, earlier this month had rejected a request by Carper and others for a hearing investigating allegations that Pruitt had spent in vain.
But Barrasso said in a statement after the GAO decision that the Pruitt agency should give a "full public accounting" on spending at the stand and explain why the agency believes it was complying with the law.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have criticized Pruitt for costly travel and other expenses. Last week, Democratic lawmakers asked him to provide documents on ethics issues that were revealed to him by a former agency official, including spending on bulletproof vests, firearms and a contract with an Italian security service.
Also last week, Republican colleague Trey Gowdy, head of the oversight committee of the United States House of Representatives, asked Pruitt for more documents for his research on air travel and the first-class lease of the administrator of a room in a Washington condominium. $ 50 per night for the nights he was there.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the GAO's decision.
The Office of the Inspector General of the EPA also published documents on Monday that show that the agency's chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, signed a controversial salary increase for three Pruitt staff members, including a increase from $ 29,000 to more than $ 114,000 for its programming director, Millan Hupp.
Pruitt had originally recommended the increases but was rejected by the White House. Jackson approved them using the authority granted under a dark provision in a clean water law, according to the documents.
Pruitt said in an interview with Fox News this month that he had no knowledge of the increases. "It should not have been done," he said. "There will be some responsibility."
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox did not respond to a request for comment on employees.
Republican President Donald Trump has said he supports Pruitt, who has fulfilled his policy objectives of cutting regulations on the oil, natural gas and coal industries, but will investigate allegations about ethical lapses.
Report of Timothy Gardner; additional report by Richard Valdmanis, edited by Dan Grebler, David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis