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GAO: EPA Administrator Pruitt Broke Law in Buying $43K Private Phone Booth

Summary – “Section 710 of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2017 (section 710) prohibits an agency from obligating an amount in excess of $5,000 to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements for the office of a presidential appointee during the period of appointment without prior notification to the appropriations committees of Congress. The statutory language of section 710 requires notification not only for the purchase of furniture and for aesthetic changes, but also for supplying the office with other equipment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated section 710 when it failed to notify the appropriations committees prior to obligating in excess of $5,000 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth for the office of the Administrator during the period of his appointment. Because EPA used its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law, EPA violated the Antideficiency Act and should report a violation as required by 31 U.S.C. § 1351.

Full Report – [snipped ] “…EPA obligated $43,238.68 from its FY 2017 Environmental Programs and Management (EPM) appropriation account for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth for the Administrator’s office. EPA did not send advance notice of this obligation to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate. EPA stated that the amounts obligated included $24,570 for “Privacy booth purchase, delivery, and assembly,” $3,470 for “Concrete Floor Leveling,” $3,360.97 for “Drop Ceiling Installation,” $3,350 for “Prep and Wall Painting,” $7,978 for “Removal of CCTV Equipment,” and $509.71 for “Infrastructure Cabling and Wiring.” The contract for the privacy booth itself required that the booth “be assembled by modular components.” According to EPA the area in which the privacy booth is located, a former storage closet in the Administrator’s office, is assigned to the Administrator. EPA provided that its “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.” According to EPA, 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…”

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