Scott Pruitt's $43K soundproof phone booth reportedly broke spending laws

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In addition, GAO found that since EPA spent its appropriated funds in a way banned by the law, it also broke the Antideficiency Act and needs to report its violation to Congress and the president.

"The GAO letter "recognized the.need for employees to have access to a secure telephone line" when handling sensitive information", said EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman.

EPA also told the GAO 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 objective of conducting agency business".

The EPA had argued that the nearly $25,000 customized phone booth - which required painting, concrete and electrical work totaling more than $18,000 to reconfigure the small closet area where it was placed - was not part of a redecoration of Pruitt's office and should not be subject to the $5,000 cap.

"An illegal privacy booth to conduct secret discussions with his polluter friends does nothing to help our health or environment", Udall said.

US government watchdogs rapped two members of President Donald Trump's Cabinet on Monday over their spending past year, adding pressure on an administration already roiled by ethics complaints.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox did not respond to a request for comment on the hires.

Among those who have received massive raises under that authority are two young aides to Pruitt he brought with him to EPA from Oklahoma, where he previously served as state attorney general. Congress passed the legal provision to enable the EPA to better attract scientists and experts, but it did not put those restrictions on the agency. Scheduling director Millian Hupp, 26, saw her wages jump to $114,590, using raises totaling greater than $48,000 - a 72.3 percent in her authentic reparation.

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Pruitt has faced growing criticism and angry questioning from Democratic and Republican lawmakers over his spending habits.

"The American people deserve so much better than the culture of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence that is pervasive in the Trump administration and the Pruitt EPA", McCollum said in a statement to the Washington Post.

The inspector general said some hiring documents were signed by Pruitt himself, while Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson signed off on forms approving big raises, adding the words "for Scott Pruitt" to his signature.

The report also documents several other instances where EPA employees received raises.

Pruitt's EPA has argued that the booth should not be considered an office redecoration or renovation and thus should not be subject to the $5,000 limit.

Democrats and a few Republicans have been calling on Pruitt either to resign or be fired since late last month, when media reports first disclosed that he had rented a Capitol Hill condo tied to an oil and gas lobbyist at the bargain rate of $50 a night. "EPA must give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law".

Whether the raises were granted with or without Pruitt's knowledge has emerged as a key question, both because of the size of the raises and the White House's previous decision to turn down pay bumps for the aides. "Like maybe a monk, where you don't come in contact with anyone".

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