Watchdog: US environmental agency broke law with soundproof booth

Washington (United States) (AFP) –


The US Environmental Protection Agency broke the law when it spent thousands of dollars building a soundproof booth for its embattled director who was appointed by President Donald Trump, government investigators said Monday.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined the agency was wrong when it spent more than $40,000 on the project without first consulting Congress, a decision that heaps pressure on EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who is already in hot water over mounting ethics questions.

"EPA used its appropriations in a manner specifically prohibited by law," GAO General Counsel Thomas Armstrong wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

Section 710 of a 2017 government appropriations act prohibits spending more than $5,000 to furnish, redecorate or make improvements to an office of a presidential appointee without prior notification to Congress.

"We conclude that EPA violated Section 710 when it obligated $43,238.68 for the installation of a soundproof privacy booth without providing advance notice to the Committees on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Senate," the letter said.

Pruitt has been under fire for his lavish spending on first-class travel and his large security detail, for a discount he received on a condominium rental linked to a lobbying firm, and for allegedly sharply boosting salaries of close aides at the EPA.

With concern over the scandals growing, Trump recently reaffirmed support of his cabinet member, calling him a "good man" who has done a "great job" helming the EPA.

Several lawmakers have called for Pruitt to resign or be fired, including three Republicans. And environmentalists say he seems intent on weakening the agency he heads.

In a joint statement, congresswoman Betty McCollum and Senator Tom Udall, both Democrats, said, "Today's GAO report is the latest proof of the rampant corruption and misconduct" at the EPA under Pruitt.