House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican, said he's troubled by recent reports of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt's unprecedented spending of taxpayer funds on his personal security, first-class travel, and luxury hotels.
The EPA was required to tell Congress before it purchased the phone booth, exceeding the $5,000 limit on decorating and furnishing Pruitt's office, but didn't.
In an eight-page decision, the congressional watchdog concluded that EPA breached appropriations law - specifically the governmentwide $5,000 spending cap on office redecoration for political appointees - by not giving advance notice to Congress' appropriations committees.
The phone booth is technically called a SCIF, a sensitive compartmented information facility, and there are already two of these facilities located at the EPA Headquarters.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said the agency is "addressing GAO's concern, with regard to congressional notification about this expense, and will be sending Congress the necessary information this week". Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency.
The agency spent $43,000 for installing the privacy booth in Pruitt's office, one of a number of expenditures for which the administrator is under scrutiny from Congress. The GAO does not have enforcement power, which means Congress or another federal agency must take action if there are to be any legal consequences for the EPA's violations. In prior interviews with Senate and House Democrats, Chmielewski said Pruitt routinely insisted on luxury travel and accommodations.
Also set to be interviewed by the committee is Kevin Chmielewski, a former Trump campaign aide who was Pruitt's deputy chief of staff. Chmielewski alleges he was placed on involuntary, unpaid leave in retaliation for pushing back against Pruitt's outsized spending demands.
While the agency did turn over documents last month detailing almost $68,000 in previously undisclosed travel costs for Pruitt during the seven months leading up to February, Gowdy said EPA officials have failed to produce the security waivers that Pruitt used to justify his purchase of premium tickets at taxpayer expense.
Jahan Wilcox, EPA spokesman, said the agency had "responded to Chairman Gowdy's inquiries and we will continue to work with him". "Like maybe a monk".