A federal watchdog said Monday the Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it spent $43,000 on a soundproof phone booth in Administrator Scott Pruitt's office without notifying Congress. "Accordingly, section 710 [of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act] applied to this obligation and EPA was required to notify the appropriations committees of its proposed obligation", Thomas Armstong, the GAO's General Counsel wrote in a letter to Democratic lawmakers on Monday.
The G.A.O. said it was not taking a position on whether or not the installation of the privacy booth was necessary, but was focusing only on whether the agency violated the Antideficiency Act, which is created to prevent the spending of money that has not been budgeted.
Pruitt told congressional investigators that the phone booth was needed to make secure calls to the White House and other federal agencies and is standing by the cost to install the booth.
Though Congressional notification was the only subject of the brief, GAO also remarked that EPA already has two Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities (SCIFs)-installations through which classified information can be shared. The only question, therefore, was whether the booth installation met the definition of using funds to "furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for or make improvements for" the administrator's office. If it's security that concerns Pruitt, the EPA chief would be just as safe flying in the back of an airplane because most people wouldn't recognize him, the Republican congressman said in an interview on "Fox News Sunday".
EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said the agency has responded to Gowdy's past inquiries and "we will continue to work with him".
David Lammy's urgent question on Windrush generation
Intensifying the row, junior home office minister Caroline Nokes admitted today that some people may have been deported in error.
"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". Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees EPA.
Republicans also criticized Pruitt after the latest round of ethical violations.
Gowdy said he has become concerned about whether Pruitt's explanations for his spending as EPA administrator are credible.
"It is critical that EPA and all federal agencies comply with notification requirements to Congress before spending tax payer dollars", Senator John Barrasso, a Republican, said in a statement.
EPA in the past has run up against GAO legal opinions.