Monday, 23 July, 2018

Watchdog: EPA broke law with $43K phone booth

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview at his office last July Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt speaks during an interview at his office last July
Patty Aguilar | 16 April, 2018, 23:33

President Donald Trump campaigned for the office he holds by pledging to "drain the swamp".

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.

Among those on the interview list is Pasquale "Nino" Perrotta, a former Secret Service agent who heads Pruitt's 20-member personal protection detail. The size of Pruitt's security is unprecedented. Last October, CNN reported that salaries alone for his security team cost at least $2 million a year, according to figures compiled by CNN from public documents - a number that does not include the costs of such things as training, equipment and travel.

The White House is reviewing Mr. Pruitt's activities, and the Office of Government Ethics has urged the EPA to investigate possible.

Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., sent the letter a day after lawmakers detailed allegations by the EPA's former deputy chief of staff for operations, Kevin Chmielewski, who told congressional staff about wasteful spending, unethical behavior and retribution at the agency for staffers who questioned the activity.

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The panel is asking for interviews with EPA chief of staff Ryan Jackson, Chmielewski, Perrotta, the director of scheduling and advance Millan Hupp and Sarah Greenwalt, the senior counsel.

Chmielewski claims that Pruitt often chose travel destinations based on a desire to visit particular cities or countries rather than official business, according to the letter.

Most recently, he's been accused of staying in expensive hotels while traveling that exceeded the government-allowable maximums and flying with Delta instead of the government's contract carrier so he could get frequent flyer miles.

The Government Accountability Office said the phone booth qualifies as a furnishing. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called on the EPA to "give a full public accounting of this expenditure and explain why the agency thinks it was complying with the law".

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